Five of America’s “worst criminals” have been scheduled for execution as the US reinstates the death penalty federally for the first time in 16 years.
Criminals who raped or killed children and the elderly will be lethally injected in December and January, the Justice Department said.
Announcing the controversial policy, Attorney General William Barr said they “owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system”.
Capital punishment at a federal level has been dormant since 2003 – although individual states carry out their own executions – and there are currently 62 people on federal death row.
While there has not been a federal execution in more than 15 years, federal attorneys have continued to carry out death penalty prosecutions.
Among the first inmates listed is Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist who was convicted in Arkansas for murdering a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl.
Another is Lezmond Mitchell, who was found guilty by a jury in Arizona of stabbing a 63-year-old grandmother and forcing her young granddaughter to sit next to her lifeless body on a car journey before slitting the girl’s throat.
Wesley Ira Purkey raped and killed a 16-year-old girl and murdered an 80-year-old woman; Alfred Bourgeois molested and killed his two-year-old daughter; and Dustin Lee Honken killed five people including two children.
“Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies,” the department said.
All five executions will take place at the US Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana using lethal injection of a single drug, Pentobarbital, a potent sedative that slows down the body to death.
The first execution is scheduled for December 9 and the remaining four over the following weeks.
“Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date,” a statement from the Department of Justice said.
The announcement relates to federal cases for which there had been an informal moratorium since 2003 with the last execution of Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr who murdered 19-year-old soldier Tracie Joy McBride.
The federal decision will affect only cases within that system, as US states separately decide whether to use capital punishment in their criminal justice systems.
The death penalty is still legal in 29 states. Twenty states have banned the death penalty while others have not carried out executions in decades.
US government schedules five executions, reversing two-decade lapse in federal use of death penalty https://t.co/dP02DQm3Pa
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) July 25, 2019
Across the nation there are more than 2600 inmates on the capital punishment list.
California has the most prisoners on death row – 733 – but has carried out only 13 executions since 1976 and earlier this year Governor Gavin Newsom granted a moratorium on capital punishment, closed the state’s execution chamber and withdrew the state’s lethal injection protocol – however cases continue in the courts.
President Donald Trump has been a strong advocate of the death penalty, criticising the ‘gentle’ treatment of those on death row and has called for its use for drug traffickers and mass shooters.
Opponents of the death penalty, including California’s governor, were quick to condemn the decision, calling the punishment “unjust, unfair, immoral”.
Mr Newsom tweeted that “We need an end to this system — not a resurrection”.
Equal justice doesn't exist in our death penalty system. The disparities for people of color are insanely high. You’re better off if you’re rich and guilty, than if you’re poor and innocent.
It’s unjust. Unfair. Immoral. We need an end to this system — not a resurrection. https://t.co/XJh1TkgYB4
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 25, 2019