Law & the Courts

AG Barr Reinstates Federal Death Penalty after 16-Year Hiatus

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., May 9, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Attorney General William Barr has reinstated the death penalty for federal crimes following a 16-year moratorium, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Barr’s order includes instructions to schedule the executions of five inmates currently incarcerated on death row for murder.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Under the new guidance provided by Barr, the Bureau of Prisons will begin conducting executions using one drug, pentobarbital, rather than the three-drug cocktail that was employed when the last federal execution occurred in 2003. The one-drug system is currently employed in Georgia, Missouri, and Texas and is believed to reduce the potential for mishap.

There are currently 62 federal inmates on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev and Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof are among them.

The five inmates whose executions have been scheduled are Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people; Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist who killed a family of three; Wesley Ira Purkey, who raped and killed a 16-year-old girl; Alfred Bourgeois, who molested and killed his two-year-old daughter; and Lezmond Mitchell, convicted of stabbing an elderly woman to death. All five inmates have exhausted their appeal options.

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