You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

DOJ to resume capital punishment after nearly two-decade hiatus

POLITICO logo POLITICO 7/25/2019 By Caitlin Oprysko and Josh Gerstein

UP NEXT
UP NEXT
Video by NBC News

The federal government once again plans to carry out lethal injections after a nearly two-decade hiatus on capital punishment, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Attorney General William Barr said that DOJ will switch from a “three-drug protocol” caught up in legal challenges to using a single drug to execute inmates by lethal injection, clearing the way and ordering the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five of the nearly 60 inmates on federal death row.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr said in a statement.

Barr's directive calls for the five inmates convicted of particularly grisly murders — including of children and the elderly — to take place beginning in December at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. All five, DOJ said, have exhausted their post-conviction appeal options.

"Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding," Barr said. "The Justice Department upholds the rule of law—and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

The change won't affect the bulk of capital punishment cases in the U.S., however, as the vast majority of capital sentences and executions in the U.S. take place at the state level.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Attorney General William Barr's directive calls for the execution of five inmates convicted of particularly grisly murders to take place beginning in December. © Drew Angerer/Getty Images Attorney General William Barr's directive calls for the execution of five inmates convicted of particularly grisly murders to take place beginning in December. As it is, only three federal prisoners have been put to death since capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, with the last execution taking place in 2003. Former President Barack Obama skirted the issue of executing federal prisoners throughout his presidency because of legal challenges, drug shortages, and questions about the protocol.

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. in 2005 seeks to block federal executions for seven federal inmates over concerns about the federal death penalty protocol. The litigation has been on hold for more than a decade as Justice Department reformulated the protocol, in part due to shortages of sodium thiopental, a drug previously part of a so-called cocktail used in federal executions.

Before the public announcement Thursday morning, Justice Department lawyers filed a copy of the new protocol with U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presently assigned to the long-pending case.

None of the five convicts whose executions were formally scheduled by federal officials in the new announcement are currently part of that litigation.

The move by Barr comes as opposition to the death penalty is at its highest point in almost half a century, according to Gallup polling, though a majority of Americans — 56 percent — continue to support capital punishment for individuals convicted of murder.

As of May 2019, 21 states and the District of Columbia had abolished the death penalty, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Seven of those states abolished capital punishment — by ballot initiative, legislation or court order — in the past decade.

Critics of capital punishment have argued the practice is unfairly applied, holding up new technologies that have exonerated death row inmates and pointing to instances of botched executions nationwide.

The multiple drug combination DOJ is abandoning has been criticized for being too error-prone, resulting in excruciating pain for inmates if provided in the wrong dosage. Instead, the Bureau of Prisons will use a single dosage of the drug pentobarbital, which DOJ said has been used in 200 executions in 14 states since 2010.

"Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have repeatedly upheld the use of pentobarbital in executions as consistent with the Eighth Amendment," which bars cruel and unusual punishments, DOJ said in a press release.

AdChoices
AdChoices

Politico

POLITICO
POLITICO
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon