Federal executions to resume in America after 17 years

A gurney is seen in Huntsville, Texas where executions via lethal injections are carried out. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The US will resume federal executions on July 13, after a 17-year stay, the Justice Department said Monday.

There have been just three federal execution since the death penalty was reinstated by the US government in 1988.

Attorney general Bill Barr announced a year ago he intended to resume the use of the death penalty for federal crimes.

Five convicted murderers were scheduled to undergo lethal injections in December 2019 and January of this year at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

But at the last minute, the US Supreme Court refused to lift a stay on federal executions, saying that – “in light of what is at stake” – the block on executions should be reviewed by an appeals court.

In April, an appeals court in Washington approved the use of pentobarbital for lethal injections, and Barr ordered that new execution dates be set for four of the five convicts.

“We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes,” Barr said in a statement.

Following his order, the Bureau of Prisons scheduled the executions to take place between July 13 and Aug 28.

Among the four is Daniel Lewis Lee, an avowed white supremacist, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl.

The mother of one of his victims, Earlene Peterson, opposes Lee’s execution due to her religious convictions and appealed to US President Donald Trump to grant Lee clemency.

“I can’t see how executing Daniel Lee will honour my daughter in any way,” Peterson said in a video posted online.

“In fact, kind of like it dirties her name because she wouldn’t want it and I don’t want it.”

Trump, who is a fervent advocate of the death penalty and has even said it should be applied against drug dealers, did not grant her appeal.

According to opinion polls, support for the death penalty has declined in recent years and is down to around 54% from 80% in the early 1990s.

Only a handful of states, mainly in the US south, still carry out executions. Twenty-two people were executed in 2019.

Most crimes in the US are heard in state courts, but some are handled by federal prosecutors, such as hate crimes, some particularly heinous crimes or those that take place on military installations or Native American reservations.