US judge delays first federal executions in 17 years


TERRE HAUTE, Indiana (Reuters) – A US federal judge issued an injunction on Monday delaying what would have been the first federal execution in 17 years, scheduled for later in the day, foiling at least for now the goal of the Trump administration to revive capital punishment at the federal level.

Corrections stand at the entrance of the Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Haute, while Daniel Lewis Lee, convicted of the murder of three members of an Arkansas family in 1996, will be executed in the first federal execution in 17 years, in Terre Haute , Indiana, USA July 13, 2020. REUTERS / Bryan Woolston

Judge Tanya Chutkan of the United States District Court in Washington ordered the United States Department of Justice to delay four executions the department had scheduled for July and August to allow for the continued legal challenges of those convicted against a new protocol. lethal injection announced in 2019.

“The scientific evidence in court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and unnecessary suffering during their executions,” Chutkan wrote in his order. She said inmates are likely to succeed in defying protocol on the grounds that it violates a constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The Justice Department told the court that it would appeal the court order.

His order came less than seven hours before Daniel Lewis Lee was executed at 4 p.m. using lethal injections of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, in the Justice Department execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Lee was sentenced to death for his role in the murders of three members of an Arkansas family, including an 8-year-old boy, in 1996.

“The government has been trying to move forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol,” Shawn Nolan, one of the public defenders who represent death row inmates in their executions, said in a statement. demands.

Efforts to resume capital punishment at the federal level were underway within months of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, ending a de facto moratorium that began under his predecessor, Barack Obama, due to problems obtaining execution drugs and while the long-standing legal challenges to lethal injections in federal courts.

The department had scheduled two more executions for weekends and a fourth in August of Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken and Keith Nelson, all convicted of murdering children.

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented some of the lawyers of death row prisoners from visiting their clients. At least one employee involved in the executions tested positive for COVID-19, the Justice Department said over the weekend.

RARE FEDERAL EXECUTIONS

While Texas, Missouri, and other states execute multiple convicts each year, federal executions are rare: only three have occurred since 1963, all between 2001 and 2003, including the 2001 execution of Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

There are currently 62 people on the federal death row in Terre Haute.

Opposition to the death penalty has grown in the United States, although 54 percent of Americans said they supported people convicted of murder, according to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center.

Announcing the planned resumption of executions, Attorney General William Barr said last year: “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry out the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

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The European Union’s ban on selling drugs for use in executions or torture has led pharmaceutical companies to refuse to sell those drugs to the prison systems of the United States.

The Justice Department spent much of 2018 and 2019 building a secret supply chain of private companies to make and test its drug of choice, pentobarbital, which replaces the three-drug protocol used in previous executions. Some of the companies involved said they did not know they were testing execution drugs, a Reuters investigation found last week.

As with Texas and other states, the Justice Department has commissioned a private pharmacy to manufacture the drug.

Reports from Bryan Woolston in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Written by Jonathan Allen; Peter Cooney and Dan Grebler edition

Our Standards:Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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