Supreme Court Refuses to Block Federal Executions

June 29, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A divided Supreme Court on Monday refused to block the execution of four federal prison inmates — executions that will mark the first use of the death penalty on the federal level in nearly 20 years.

A majority of justices declined to hear an appeal from four inmates, all of whom were convicted of killing children.

But two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, said they would have stopped the executions from going forward.

The inmates, who are scheduled to be put to death in July and August, have separately asked a federal judge in Washington to impose a new delay in their executions over legal issues that have yet to be resolved in their cases.

Attorney General William Barr first announced the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment that had been in place since 2003.

He also directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of the four inmates.

Addressing the cases last month, Barr said, “The American people, acting through Congress and presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death.

“The four murderers whose executions are scheduled today have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws. We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” he said.

The inmates scheduled for execution are: Danny Lee, who was convicted in Arkansas of killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old; Wesley Ira Purkey, of Kansas, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and killed an 80-year-old woman; Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people in Iowa, including two children; and Keith Dwayne Nelson, who kidnapped a 10-year-old girl who was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home and raped her in a forest behind a church before strangling the young girl with a wire.

Three of the executions — for Lee, Purkley and Honken — are scheduled days apart beginning July 13. Nelson’s execution is scheduled for Aug. 28.

The Justice Department said additional executions will be set at a later date.

There are currently 62 inmates on death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, the facility where federal executions are carried out by lethal injection.

Among those most recently executed at the prison in Terre Haute were Timothy McVeigh and drug kingpin Juan Raul Garza in 2001, and Louis Jones, Jr., who was convicted of sex assault and murder in 2003.

McVeigh, who was convicted for his responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing, was the first prisoner executed by the U.S. Government since the formal moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 1976.

Among those currently awaiting execution in Terre Haute is Dylann Roof, the White supremacist convicted in 2016 for killing nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

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