DOJ Would Take Halted Executions To High Court

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Attorney General William Barr speaks with an Associated Press reporter onboard an aircraft en route to Cleveland, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a two-day trip to Ohio and Montana. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press on Thursday that he would take the Trump administration’s bid to restart federal executions after a 16-year hiatus to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Barr’s comments came hours after a district court judge temporarily blocked the administration’s plans to start executions next month. The administration is appealing the decision, and Barr said he would take the case to the high court if Thursday’s ruling stands.

He said the five inmates set to be executed are a small portion of 62 death row inmates.

“There are people who would say these kinds of delays are not fair to the victims, so we can move forward with our first group,” Barr said aboard a government plane to Montana, after he met with local and federal law enforcement officials in Cleveland.

The attorney general unexpectedly announced in July that the government would resume executions next month, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain.

Some of the chosen inmates challenged the new procedures in court, arguing that the government was circumventing proper methods in order to wrongly execute inmates quickly.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan put the cases on ice while the challenge plays out. She said in a Wednesday evening ruling that the public is not served by “short-circuiting” legitimate judicial process.

“It is greatly served by attempting to ensure that the most serious punishment is imposed lawfully,” she wrote.

Her ruling temporarily postpones four of the five scheduled executions beginning next month; the fifth had already been halted. It’s possible the government could win an appeal in time to begin executions Dec. 9, but that would be an unusually fast turnaround.

“This decision prevents the government from evading accountability and making an end-run around the courts by attempting to execute prisoners under a protocol that has never been authorized by Congress,” said the inmates’ attorney, Shawn Nolan. “The court has made clear that no execution should go forward while there are still so many unanswered questions about the government’s newly announced execution method.”

Most Democrats oppose the death penalty. Republican President Donald Trump has spoken often about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.

Still, executions on the federal level have been rare. The government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988, most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

Barr said in July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume.

He approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug combination previously used in federal executions with one drug, pentobarbital. This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas, but not all.

Chutkan said in her opinion that the inmates’ legal challenge to the procedure was likely to succeed because the Federal Death Penalty Act requires that federal executions employ procedures used by the states in which they are carried out.

On Thursday, Barr defended the protocols, saying the Bureau of Prisons has been testing and conducting practice drills ahead of the first execution. He would not say where the cocktail of drugs would come from.

“I was kept advised and reports were given to me, scientific tests, the drills they are running through,” Barr said.

Those chosen were among inmates who had exhausted their appeals, and the cases were forwarded to senior Justice Department officials who reviewed the cases and made recommendations to him, Barr said.

Danny Lee of Yukon, Oklahoma, was the first person scheduled to be executed. Lee 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.

The death penalty remains legal in 30 states, but only a handful regularly conduct executions. Texas has executed 108 prisoners since 2010, far more than any other state.

Though there hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, the Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions, and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. DNA and other evidence have released quite a few people on death row. This indicates we cannot trust the Big Government program that is the death penalty. Lock them up for life. That will keep the Bad Guys out of circulation and give the few innocent people a chance.

    • That’s baloney and rubbish . It’s pure nonsense .
      1) now that there is DNA we can leverage it and say ok if on death row use DNA . Now you have the iron clad clearly you want . Your whole argument is a reason why we should do it
      2) Since these isolated DNA stories occurred the govt is far more scrupulous in who is in death row . They are now mindful of not prosecuting the wrong guy and more precautions are taken . They are also lots of savvy lawyers who gain from volunteering for these guys to fight for them . They Advance their silly liberal agenda and career . All of that makes it much more difficult for the govt to get to the point of death row
      3) your DNA stories are isolated and not the norm . But it’s classic fake news lying tactics to take isolated stores and establish it as the norm .

      Bottom line you are just spewing insensible illogical liberal pc BS . Just like your fat lying user name .

      By a wave of hands who believes that a liberal goy from PA , who lives in Saudi Arabia and is a veteran would take the time to constantly post on VIN? How many people believe that ?

        • I trust them when it comes to the death penalty. There is already enough push back that the govt has to go through lots of hoops till it kills someone . And only the lowest of the lowest end up getting killed usually for gruesome acts .

          I don’t trust govt when it’s about prosecuting people to advance careers like at the anti trump lying prosecutors or the rubashkin prosecutor.

          Your story is ludicrous and ridiculous. Its immature too . Anyone who believes it is very dumb

  2. The point is, the government should not be in the business of executing its citizens. Period. And the fact that people have been executed and later found to be innocent should be reason enough to get rid of the death penalty. If 1 out of 10,000 people who are executed are later found to be innocent that is too much. How can a frum person support the death penalty is beyond me. Man has no business playing god executing another except for self defense. By the way, if Trump is found to be guilty of treason, I assume you would support the death penalty for him, as outlined in the constitution, right?

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