Federal government resuming executions, announces first 5 people to be killed

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Attorney General Bill Barr announced Thursday the federal government will be resuming capital punishment.

In the announcement, the U.S. Department of Justice said the decision was made related to "five death-row inmates convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society -- children and the elderly."

The DOJ further added that Barr had asked Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to "schedule to executions" of those five individuals.

"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," Barr said in the announcement.

According to the Justice Department, the inmates to be executed include Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group who murdered a family of three and threw them into the Illinois Bayou in Arkansas in 1999. Another is Lezmond Mitchell, who stabbed to death a 63-year-old woman and forced her granddaughter to sit next to her dead body on a "30 to 40-mile drive" before then murdering her as well. He was sentenced in 2003.

Also to be executed is Wesley Ira Purkey, who was sentenced in 2003 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, whose remains he dismembered dumped into a sewage pond. The DOJ adds he also was convicted on state charges for bludgeoning an 80-year-old woman to death with a claw hammer.

Alfred Bourgeois is now scheduled for a Jan. 13, 2020, execution after his 2004 sentencing for the torture, sexual molestation and murder of his toddler daughter. The last newly scheduled execution is for Dustin Lee Honken, who shot and killed five people, including a single mother and her 10- and 6-year-old daughters, and was sentenced in 2004.

DOJ says all executions will take place at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana, and will take place between December 2019 and January 2020.

Amnesty International, which calls the death penalty "the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment," released a statement decrying the move.

"The Trump administration's decision to restart federal executions after a 16-year hiatus is outrageous. It is the latest indication of this administration's disdain for human rights," Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang said in a statement.

The issue of the death penalty has been a tug-of-war between states and the federal government.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 federal defendants have been sentenced to death between 1988 and 2018. Only three have been executed and 12 were removed from death row.

The last person to be put to death by the federal government was Louis Jones Jr. a Gulf War Veteran who raped and killed a fellow solider and his lawyers blamed it on Iraqi nerve gas. He was put to death in 2003 and before that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.

In late May, New Hampshire became the latest state to ban the death penalty on the state level. Prior to the New Hampshire vote, there were 30 states that still had the death penalty, though four of those states have moratoriums in place banning executions.

One such moratorium was put in place in California in March, which was significant because the Golden State has a sizable death row population but hadn't performed an execution for years.

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