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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.

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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.

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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