The U.S. federal government will resume its use of capital punishment after a 16-year hiatus and have set execution dates for five convicted murderers, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced Thursday.
Acting on President Donald Trump‘s call for tougher penalties on violent crimes, Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt a new lethal injection protocol to clear the way to carry out death sentences.
“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.
There were 25 executions in the United States last year, all carried out by state authorities on people convicted on state charges.
The government has about 60 people on death row in federal prisons.
Donald Trump took out a full-page ad to "Bring Back The Death Penalty" to execute five Black and Latino teens who were wrongly accused in the Central Park Five case. All five kids were exonerated but Trump never apologized. Now he wants to bring back the federal death penalty. pic.twitter.com/knSytKX7m7
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) July 25, 2019
But debate about the methods of execution and controversy over the drugs used, as well as a reticence by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama to carry out death sentences, means that no federal prisoner has been put to death since 2003.
Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to carry out executions using a single lethal injection of the barbiturate phenobarbital, replacing the previous, three-drug cocktails using thiopental.
“Since 2010, 14 states have used pentobarbital in over 200 executions, and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have repeatedly upheld the use of pentobarbital in executions as consistent with the Eighth Amendment” of the constitution, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, the Justice Department said.
Despite the court rulings, the ethics of lethal injections have increasingly been called into question due to a string of botched executions resulting in extreme pain for prisoners.
The announcement drew swift condemnation from Democrats including presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. In a Tweet Thursday, Harris noted that “too many innocent people have been put to death” and called for a national moratorium on executions.
On Barr’s order, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has scheduled executions for five people all found guilty 15 years ago or more in brutal murders that involved children.