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SPLC says resuming federal executions is a step in the wrong direction

Brandon Moseley

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Attorney General Bill Barr has directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to clear the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment. The attorney general has further directed the acting director of the BOP, Hugh Hurwitz, to schedule the executions of five death-row inmates convicted of murdering children and the elderly.

While the state of Alabama regularly executes criminals in our state system, the U.S. government has not executed any of their prisoners since 2003. If the Trump administration gets their way, that will change beginning in December.

The Montgomery based Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement opposing the Justice Department decision.

Lisa Graybill is the deputy legal director for the SPLC’s criminal justice reform project.

“There is a reason that the United States has gone 16 years without executing anyone, and has only executed three people since 1976 in federal custody,” Graybill said. “Recognition that the criminal justice system in this country is broken, racial disparities abound, and the possibility of executing an innocent person is very real has rightly resulted in a reduction in the use of the death penalty.”

“The decision by Attorney General William Barr to begin executions again will not solve any of these problems and concerns,” Graybill warned. “Carrying out a death sentence costs more than a life sentence, does not deter others from committing crimes, and risks imposing the ultimate price on innocent individuals. Executions have been botched in grotesque attempts that create intense pain and suffering.”

“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. “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 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.”

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“We encourage Attorney General Barr and others in power to rethink this decision. Bringing back the barbaric practice of executions at the federal level serves no useful purpose,” Graybill said.

According to Fox News, there are 61 men and one woman on the federal death row. Most of them are housed at a federal prison in Indiana. Lethal injection is the only approved means of executing someone in the federal system.

Opponents of the death penalty often claim that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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The Justice Department said since 2010, 14 states have used pentobarbital in over 200 executions, and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have repeatedly upheld the use of pentobarbital in executions as consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

Death penalty supporters point to the fact that when the Eighth Amendment was ratified, the federal government and all the states at that time used the death penalty, so the writers of the amendment clearly did not believe that the death penalty is “cruel and unusual.”

Barr has targeted Daniel Lewis Lee for execution. Lee is a member of a white supremacist group who murdered a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl. After robbing and shooting the victims with a stun gun, Lee covered their heads with plastic bags, sealed the bags with duct tape, weighed down each victim with rocks, and threw the family of three into the Illinois bayou. On May 4, 1999, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty of numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and he was sentenced to death. Lee’s execution is scheduled to occur on December 9, 2019.

Lezmond Mitchell stabbed to death a 63-year-old grandmother and forced her nine-year-old granddaughter to sit beside her lifeless body for a 30 to 40-mile drive. Mitchell then slit the girl’s throat twice, crushed her head with 20-pound rocks, and severed and buried both victims’ heads and hands. On May 8, 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona found Mitchell guilty of numerous offenses, including first-degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in murder, and he was sentenced to death. Mitchell’s execution is scheduled to occur on December 11, 2019.

Wesley Ira Purkey violently raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl, and then dismembered, burned, and dumped the young girl’s body in a septic pond. He also was convicted in state court for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane. On November 5, 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri found Purkey guilty of kidnapping a child resulting in the child’s death, and he was sentenced to death. Purkey’s execution is scheduled to occur on December 13, 2019.

Alfred Bourgeois physically and emotionally tortured, sexually molested, and then beat to death his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. On March 16, 2004, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found Bourgeois guilty of multiple offenses, including murder, and he was sentenced to death. Bourgeois’ execution is scheduled to occur on January 13, 2020.

Dustin Lee Honken shot and killed five people—two men who planned to testify against him and a single, working mother and her ten-year-old and six-year-old daughters. On October 14, 2004, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa found Honken guilty of numerous offenses, including five counts of murder during the course of a continuing criminal enterprise, and he was sentenced to death. Honken’s execution is scheduled to occur on January 15, 2020.

Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies, and currently, no legal impediments prevent their executions.

The execution will be performed at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana.

Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date.

(Original reporting by Fox News contributed to this report.)

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National

Lawmaker files bill to ban treatments for transgender kids

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Republican Wes Allen, R-Troy, filed a bill to prevent doctors from providing hormone replacement therapy or puberty suppressing drugs to people younger than 19 who identify as transgender.

HB303, the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,  would make it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking medications or opposite gender hormones to minors. Allen’s legislation would also ban hysterectomy, mastectomy or castration surgeries from being performed on minors.

“I was shocked when I found out doctors in Alabama were prescribing these types of drugs to children,” Allen said in a news release. “This is something you hear about happening in California or New York but it is happening right here in Alabama and it’s time we put a stop to that practice.”

Allen said that children experiencing gender dysphoria are struggling with a psychological disorder and that they need therapeutic treatment from mental health professionals instead of medical intervention that would leave their bodies “permanently mutilated.” 

“These children are suffering from a psychological disorder, just as someone who is suffering with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia but we treat those patients and try to help them. We should treat these psychological disorders as well.”

In 2018, a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that:

  • “Transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute a mental disorder; 
  • Variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity, and binary definitions of gender do not always reflect emerging gender identities; 
  • Gender identity evolves as an interplay of biology, development, socialization, and culture; and
  • If a mental health issue exists, it most often stems from stigma and negative experiences rather than being intrinsic to the child”

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2018 that it was removing “gender identity disorder” from its global manual of diagnoses and reclassify “gender identity disorder” as “gender incongruence,” which is now listed under the sexual health chapter rather than the mental disorders chapter. 

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In a 2018 interview, Dr. Lale Say, a reproductive health expert at the WHO, said that gender incongruence was removed from the list of mental health disorders because “we had a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma. So in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.”

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to remove the term “gender identity disorder” from the manual and add the term “gender dysphoria.”

Allen’s bill will be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

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Elections

Doug Jones raises $2.4 million in first fundraising period of 2020

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, raised $2.4 million in the first fundraising period of 2020, according to his reelection campaign, which was $500,000 more than he raised during the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Jones has $7.4 million cash at hand, according to his campaign, which released the totals on Thursday. Jones’s latest campaign finance reports weren’t yet posted to the Federal Election Commission website on Thursday. 

“Alabamians across the state are showing their commitment to Doug’s message of One Alabama and his proven track record of standing up for all Alabamians,” said Doug Turner, Senior Advisor for Jones’s campaign, in a statement Thursday. Doug’s work to support working families, fund our HBCUs, modernize our military and expand and protect our health care is resonating with folks throughout Alabama. We are well-positioned to continue to grow our grassroots support and win in November.” 

Jones ended 2019 leading all of his Republican contenders in fundraising, ending the year with $5 million in cash.

 

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National

Jones introduces bipartisan bill to protect children from human trafficking

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has introduced a bill that would help prevent exploitation by providing grants for training and resources.

The bipartisan Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020 would help prevent the trafficking and exploitation of children by providing grants to train students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking.

Jones introduced the bill along with his colleagues: Sens, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Tina Smith, D-Minnesota. While trafficking victims come from all walks of life and do not fit a particular profile, young people with certain risk factors may be more vulnerable to trafficking. For example, children in the child welfare or juvenile justice system, are homeless or ran away from home, or are unaccompanied or were forced to leave their home by their caregivers are much more at risk of becoming trafficking victims.

“Every year, thousands of people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across the state of Alabama,” Jones said. “The battle against human trafficking is one that we have to wage on all fronts, but our teachers and school personnel are on the front lines. With additional training and resources, we can continue to raise awareness about the signs of trafficking and hopefully prevent this systemic exploitation of children and other vulnerable people.”

Pat McCay Chairs the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Alabama has been fighting sex trafficking and exploitation since 2009,” McCay said. “We continue to see more and more cases each year affecting school-aged children and even children as young as four years old. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020 will enable us to target the appropriate demographic with much-needed prevention training and education in schools and equip our children, along with their teachers, parents, and other school employees, to know the signs and dangers of trafficking and exploitation and how to avoid becoming a victim. Thank you, Senator Jones, for sponsoring this very important prevention bill.”

This legislation would Authorize the Director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons in the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) to establish a demonstration project to issue grants to non-profit organizations and schools to develop and implement age-appropriate, culturally competent, and gender-responsive curriculum for training students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to understand, recognize, prevent, and respond to signs of human trafficking.

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The bill instructs the Director to give priority to eligible entities serving geographic areas with the highest prevalence of human trafficking, and areas with the highest prevalence of at-risk, vulnerable, or underserved populations including homeless youth, foster youth, youth involved in the child welfare system and runaways.

It would also set forth important data collection on the human trafficking / exploitation of children and strict, privacy-protected reporting requirements for the program.

Jones is a former U.S. Attorney. That experience helped Senator Jones have a deeper understanding of the complexity of human trafficking. In the Senate, he has championed legislation that would prevent the targeting of vulnerable people. He is an original cosponsor of the bipartisan ILLICIT Cash Act (S.2563), which helps law enforcement to combat illicit financial activity being carried out by human traffickers. Corporate secrecy can fuel human trafficking, protecting traffickers from law enforcement and prosecution, and this legislation will help increase transparency and expose bad actors. Senator Jones has also supported renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes important anti-trafficking provisions, and has encouraged the Office of Management and Budget to provide robust funding for VAWA grants.

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In 2018, Senator Jones also cosponsored the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which allowed law enforcement and civil litigants to target web platforms harboring and hosting sex trafficking activity. The House of Representatives version of the bill passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law in April 2018.

The internet has made trafficking much more lucrative because buyers can shop online to connect with pimps to arrange delivery.

Senator Doug Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Jones was elected in 2017.

 

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Aerospace and Defense

Blue Origin opens rocket engine factory in Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Blue Origin has opened its sprawling factory in Huntsville, Alabama’s “Rocket City.”

The massive new factory will allow the spaceflight company to accelerate the production of its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine. The move creates hundreds of jobs.

The BE-4, which is under development, will power both Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, which is being produced at ULA’s factory in nearby Decatur.

Huntsville was an ideal location for the new factory, not only for its highly skilled workforce; but also for its proximity to ULA’s assembly pant and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center where the new Alabama-built engine will be tested. Marshall’s historic test stand 4670 is where the Saturn V moon rocket’s engines were tested.

Blue Origin is upgrading and refurbishing the test stand.

“This community is absolutely terrific to be a part of,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. “It has the kind of spirit that you want when developing this kind of technology and actually has the history that you can be feel proud about.”

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“Enjoyed speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Blue Origin’s new rocket engine production facility in Cummings Research Park,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said. “This top-notch facility will be used to conduct production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. I joined Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, Congressman Robert Aderholt, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and several others this afternoon to discuss the impact Blue Origin is making in the Tennessee Valley!”

Alabama Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield was at the ceremony making the opening of the spaceflight company’s rocket engine factory.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “In addition to the economic boost resulting from hundreds of new jobs in north Alabama, the Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine production facility will allow the United States – the state of Alabama – to take astronauts once again into space without dependence on other nations. Methods of warfare have changed, and maintaining our dominance in the current space race is therefore a critical element in national security.”

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Blue Origin was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Blue Origin’s 350,000-square-foot facility is located in Cummings Research Park and will employ more than 300 people. Smith said that around 200 jobs should be created over the next year.

The factory was a $200 million investment in the state and announced on June 2017, with construction beginning in Huntsville a little over a year ago.

 

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