Crime & Justice

US executes 1st federal inmate in 17 years

Washington, Jul 14 (efe-epa).- Authorities in the United States on Tuesday put to death a federal inmate for the first time in 17 years, administering a lethal injection to Daniel Lewis Lee just six hours after the Supreme Court had given the green light for the execution in a 5-4 ruling.

“Law and order,” US President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after the high court decided that “executions may proceed as planned.”

Federal prison authorities in Terre Haute, Indiana, executed Lee, a former white supremacist who was convicted in 1999 of torturing and killing three members of the same family three years earlier in the south-central state of Arkansas and dumping their bodies in a lake.

“I didn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer,” the 47-year-old Lee said shortly before the execution. “You’re killing an innocent man.”

On Monday, a federal judge in Washington DC, Tanya Chutkan, once again blocked the execution of four death-row inmates, including Lee.

She ruled that the federal government’s new execution protocol – involving the use of a single drug, pentobarbital, that she said may produce a sense of drowning, extreme pain, terror and panic – violates a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Chutkan had issued a similar injunction in November, although that ruling was overturned by an appeals court.

On June 29, the US Supreme Court denied appeals by those four inmates and cleared the way for the executions to proceed in July and August, starting with Lee’s.

US Attorney General William Barr last year issued a directive to the Federal Bureau of Prisons that cleared the way for the executions of five death-row inmates convicted of murdering children.

Prior to Tuesday’s execution, a US federal inmate had not been put to death since 2003. Five-dozen inmates are currently on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Those prisoners include a man convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; and Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death for killing nine African-American church-goers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Both of those death-row inmates have appealed their federal convictions and death sentences.

The resumption of federal executions runs counter to a state-level trend in recent years that has resulted in death sentences being increasingly concentrated in southern conservative states.

Several of the 50 US states have recently abolished the death penalty, bringing the total to have done so to 22, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Colorado is the most recent state to have abolished capital punishment, having taken that step in March.

After President Donald Trump’s administration last year announced the resumption of federal executions, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the decision and said the US Justice Department was “on the wrong side of history again.”

“Under no circumstances should the Justice Department be allowed to rush through executions. The federal death penalty is defined by the same problems of racial bias, geographic disparities, prosecutorial misconduct and junk science that have led to the decline in support for capital punishment nationwide,” the ACLU said in July 2019.

The DPIC, a Washington-based non-profit organization that produces reports on capital punishment, says on its website that “since 1973, more than 165 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the US have been exonerated.” EFE-EPA

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