Federal death penalty to resume after 16 years


US President Donald Trump sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, US, July 26, 2019. [Photo/Agencies] After a gunman killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue last year, US President Donald Trump told reporters the perpetrator “should really suffer the ultimate price”.

“I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue,” he added.

Now the federal government is bringing back the death penalty after it being dormant for 16 years following authorization from Congress and signing by Trump.

US Attorney General Bill Barr made the announcement on July 25: “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.”

He didn’t say why executions were resuming now, but Trump has been a vocal supporter of the death penalty.

For 16 years, a combination of successful appeals, limited access to lethal injection drugs, and an effective moratorium during the Obama administration prevented new executions under federal law. Since that time, some of the 25 states where capital punishment is legal have carried out executions for those found guilty under state laws.

Barr’s announcement comes as the number of executions in the US has declined over the last decade amid concerns about whether capital punishment disproportionately affects African-Americans.

The US Department of Justice, or DOJ, said the decision to carry out a federal death penalty 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 said the executions of five men have been scheduled for December and early 2020 by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Additional executions will be scheduled “at a later date”, according to the department’s statement.

All five who will be executed have exhausted their appeals and have no legal obstacles to prevent their deaths.

Barr also directed the government to change the mixture of three drugs used for federal executions to just a single drug, phenobarbital, a barbiturate that in high doses causes respiratory arrest.

The use of the drug has been upheld by the Supreme Court and has been used in the executions of 200 inmates in 14 states since 2010.

Ruth Friedman, the director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, called the federal death penalty “arbitrary, racially biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science”.

Democratic presidential hopefuls were quick with their denunciation of Barr’s order.

US Senator Kamala Harris, a former California prosecutor, tweeted that “capital punishment is immoral and deeply flawed”.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said “The death penalty is not only ineffective and immoral, but also fraught with biases against people of color, low-income individuals, and those with mental illness. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars and does nothing to improve public safety”.

Public support for the death penalty, which reached a four-decade low in 2016, has increased somewhat since then. Today, 54 percent of US citizens favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39 percent are opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April and May 2018.

Two years ago, 49 percent of those surveyed favored the death penalty for people convicted of murder, the lowest level of support for capital punishment in surveys dating back to the early 1970s.