Justice Dept. announces plans to resume federal executions

The U.S. government hasn't carried out a federal execution since 2003, but Thursday Attorney General William Barr told the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions of five men on death row. The move ends an informal federal moratorium. Barr said that a review of death penalty procedures had been completed. That review was ordered by President Obama after a botched state execution in Oklahoma involving lethal injection drugs. 

Barr announced there would be new procedures that will replace the three drugs previously used in lethal injections, with a single drug that is used in Georgia and Texas. 

There are 61 federal inmates on death row according to a report by the NAACP.

Rory Little, professor at U.C. Hastings College of the Law, worked on capital punishment cases under Attorney General Janet Reno.

"There aren't that many federal death penalty cases. Most death penalty cases are on the state side," said Little, 'There are 29 states that have a death penalty and there are about 21 states that don't so it's about the same as the American public. It's about 50-50 on this penalty."

Federal death penalty convictions apply nationwide with recent high profile convictions including the South Carolina church bomber and the Boston marathon bomber.

"In the Boston marathon case, Massachusetts does not have a death penalty as a state, but when that case was prosecuted federally in Massachusetts the jury imposed the death penalty," said Little.

Nina Salarno Besselman, President of the advocacy group Crime Victims United based in Auburn, California says death penalty sentences should be carried out.

"Victims have to endure not only the loss of a loved one but then the whole entire criminal justice process," said Salarmo Besselman, "To deny it to victims is completely horrendous. It takes away their voice. It takes away their right to see justice."

The death penalty has been controversial.

"There's a lot of problems with the penalty. We know there are people who've been wrongfully convicted on death row," said Little.

President Trump has spoken several times in favor of the death penalty and Thursday's move by his administration adds another divisive issue into the national dialogue ahead of the 2020 presidential elections.

On Thursday, many Democratic candidates issued statements opposing the federal executions.

A poll conducted last year by Pew Research found 54% of Americans favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, with 39% opposed.

Support for the death penalty has been trending lower among Democrats since the mid-1990s, but it remains strong among Republicans..

Here's a look at the inmates who are scheduled to be executed beginning in December.

   Danny Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was convicted in the 1996 deaths of an Arkansas family as part of a plot to set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest. 
   Lee and an accomplice, Chevie Kehoe, were convicted of killing gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy Mueller, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, and stealing guns and cash. 
   Lee's attorney, Morris Moon, said his client's case "exemplifies many of the serious flaws in the federal death penalty system" and that "executing him would be a grave injustice." Moon says there was more evidence against Kehoe -- described by federal prosecutors at the time as the leader of the plot -- but he received a life sentence. 
   Lee was convicted in 1999 in Arkansas. A federal judge denied Lee's request for a new trial in February, but noted that evidence presented by his attorneys "is reasonably likely" to have led to a different sentence.

   He is the first inmate scheduled to be executed, on Dec. 9. 


   Lezmond Mitchell, a Navajo man, stabbed a 63-year-old woman to death in 2003 and then forced her 9-year-old granddaughter to sit beside her grandmother's lifeless body as he drove about 40 miles, before he slit the young girl's throat. 
   Their beheaded, mutilated bodies were found in a shallow grave on the reservation. Mitchell stole the woman's car and later robbed a trading post in Red Valley, Arizona.

   He's scheduled to be executed two days after Lee.



   The Bureau of Prisons plans to execute Wesley Ira Purkey on Dec. 13. He was convicted of raping and killing a 16-year-old girl before dismembering, burning and then dumping the teen's body in a septic pond. 
   Prosecutors said he was also convicted in a state court in Kansas after using a claw hammer to kill an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio.

   Purkey, who is from Kansas, is slated to be executed on Dec. 13.



   Prosecutors say Alfred Bourgeois tortured, sexually molested, and then beat his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to death. Court records say Bourgeois repeatedly beat the young girl and punched her in the face, whipped her with an electrical cord and beat her with a belt so hard that it broke. He also allegedly burned her feet with a cigarette lighter and hit her in the head with a baseball bat until her head swelled. 
   He was convicted in 2004 of several charges, including murder, and was sentenced to death. He's scheduled to be executed on Jan. 13.


   Dustin Lee Honken was convicted in 2004 in connection with the killings of five people as part of a plan to thwart a federal investigation into his drug operation. 
   The victims included two men who became informants and were going to testify against him, the girlfriend of one of the informants and her two young daughters, ages six and 10.

   Honken was convicted in federal court in Iowa in 2004 and is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15.