Justice Department to Resume Federal Executions

July 25, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced Thursday that it will resume capital punishment for the first time in nearly two decades.

In a written statement, the Department said Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt an amended protocol clearing the way for the execution of inmates convicted of capital crimes.

Barr further directed Hugh Hurwitz, acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, to schedule the executions of five death-row inmates convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, children and the elderly.

“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 the statement. 

“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,” the attorney general 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.”

If carried out, the federally sanctioned executions of the five men will be the first since 2003.

Only three federal executions have taken place since 1988, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has adopted a regulation that will require federal authorities to use a single drug, pentobarbital, in federal executions, according to the DOJ statement.

Pentobarbital is used by several states for lethal injections.

Four states have declared a moratorium on executions, as wrongful convictions have also been spotlighted by groups like the Innocence Project, which have secured the release of a number of death-row inmates in recent years.

Those states are California, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

In implementing California’s moratorium in March, Governor Gavin Newsom also announced that he was withdrawing the state’s execution protocol—the administrative plan by which executions are carried out—and was closing down the state’s execution chamber.

In his executive order imposing the moratorium, Newsom said, “I will not oversee the execution of any person while Governor.”

The order granted a reprieve to the 737 prisoners currently on California’s death row.

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