Attorney General William Barr directed the federal government Thursday to resume capital punishment after nearly two decades and has directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of five inmates after adopting an updated execution protocol.
After 16 years without an execution, Barr has directed the head of the Bureau of Prisons to execute “five death-row inmates convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society — children and the elderly” in December and January, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
“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,” Barr said in a statement.
At Barr’s direction, the Bureau of Prisons has adopted the Federal Execution Protocol Addendum which “replaces the three-drug procedure previously used in federal executions with a single drug—pentobarbital,” the Justice Department announced.
While Barr has directed the Bureau of Prisons to adopt the updated protocol, legal experts say that won’t happen overnight and they question whether any execution will take place as soon as December.
“Saying that you are going to adopt a protocol is not the same thing as having a protocol properly adopted through the required administrative procedures,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that has been critical of how the penalty is administered. “You can’t just say it and have it happen. There is a legal process for a protocol to go into effect and there is a legal process for challenging the protocol.”
Dunham predicts that there will be opposition when the protocol is formally proposed.
Already in the District of Columbia there has been an ongoing lawsuit involving the federal lethal injection process. There will be a range of questions about how the federal government is obtaining the drug it intends to use.
The five federal inmates ordered to be executed are Daniel Lewis Lee for murdering a family of three, including an 8-year-old girl; Lezmond Mitchell for murdering a 63-year-old and her 9-year-old granddaughter; Wesley Ira Purkey for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl; Alfred Bourgeois for torturing and killing his own 2-year-old daughter; Dustin Lee Honken, for shooting and killing five people, including two young girls.
There are currently 62 inmates on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Only three federal inmates have been executed in the United States since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 after a 16-year moratorium.
Louis Jones, a Gulf War veteran, was the last federal inmate executed in March 2003 for the kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride.