Attorney General William Barr said Thursday the Justice Department will resume executions of federal prisoners after a nearly 20 years lapse, and immediately scheduled executions for five federal death row inmates convicted of murdering children and the elderly, while promising more to come.
According to a Justice Department announcement, Barr directed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, to adopt the revision to the Federal Execution Protocol, a maneuver that “[clears] the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment after a nearly two decade lapse, and bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”
Barr also directed Hurwitz to schedule executions for five death-row inmates at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, in December 2019 and January 2020. According to the Bureau of Prisons, no federal executions occurred in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Three executions were carried out in the 2000s, including the June 11, 2001 lethal injection of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Louis Jones Jr. was the last federal prisoner executed. A veteran of the first Gulf War, Jones was convicted for the 1995 murder of Army private Tracie McBride. He was executed on March 18, 2003.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 62 federal death-row inmates. One of those is Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston on June 17, 2015. He was sentenced to death on Jan. 10, 2017.
“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,” said Barr, who was confirmed attorney general on Feb. 14.
“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.”
The new protocol calls on BOP to use the lethal injection drug pentobarbital to carry out the executions, replacing a three-drug procedure that was previously used.
Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, started the process of reviewing federal death sentence policies earlier on in the Trump administration.
A Justice Department official told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the agency — and not the White House — made the decision to restart executions.
According to the official, Barr “carefully selected cases that involved heinous crimes against vulnerable victims, and where the lengthy appeals process had been exhausted.”
The Justice Department identified the five inmates scheduled for execution:
- Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, 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 Dec. 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 Dec. 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 Nov. 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 Dec. 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 Jan. 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 Oct. 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 Jan. 15, 2020.
“Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date,” the DOJ said.