First Federal Executions Since 2003 Scheduled by Department of Justice

Four death row inmates have been scheduled for federal execution, according to a Monday statement from the Department of Justice.

The executions mark the first time the federal government has enacted the death penalty since 2003. Barr announced an addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol in July 2019, which proposed a nationwide standard for the drugs used in lethal injections. Originally, the four executions were announced in December, but inmates filed lawsuits against the addendum. Although a lower court is still reviewing some aspects connected to the litigation, the first federal execution is scheduled for July.

"The American people, acting through Congress and presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death," said Attorney General William P. Barr. "The four murderers whose executions are scheduled today have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws. We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

Newsweek reached out to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for comment. This story will be updated with any response.

Criticism was directed towards the death penalty after the 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. During the lethal injection, Lockett's vein collapsed causing him to convulse. Soon after, he died of a heart attack. Some observers said the execution was not carried out in a humane manner.

President Barack Obama called Lockett's execution "deeply troubling" in a 2014 news conference and called for a review of the death penalty and how lethal injections were carried out, including which drugs were used.

william barr
U.S. Attorney General WIlliam Barr announced that federal executions would begin again in July after an injunction barring the practice was vacated by an appeals court. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

After the conclusion of the Obama-era review in 2019, Barr introduced his solution to the lethal injection problem by directing the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to begin using a single drug—pentobarbital—instead of the commonly used "drug cocktail," which employed up to three different drugs. Barr also announced the scheduling of five federally-sanctioned executions.

All the executions were scheduled to take place at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. However, four of the five inmates who were scheduled to be put to death filed suit to stop the executions.

Legal counsel for the inmates said Barr's addendum violated the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, which states that prisoners must be executed "in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence was imposed." None of the prisoners scheduled to be executed were sentenced in the state of Indiana.

While a district court initially barred the executions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the injunction in April allowing the government to resume executions.

President Donald Trump has long been a proponent of capital punishment. "I've always supported the death penalty," Trump said in February 2016. "I don't even understand people that don't."

In March 2018, Trump said he supported capital punishment for certain drug offenders. "Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year," adding the DOJ would be looking into "the death penalty, for the really bad pushers and abusers."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states currently have the death penalty on the books.