Federal Gov’t Carries Out First Execution Since 2003 After Late Night Supreme Court Ruling
Do you think the federal government should use the death penalty?
by Causes | 7.14.20
What’s the story?
- The federal government conducted its first execution since 2003 on Tuesday morning, using lethal injection to kill a man convicted in 1999 of three murders he committed in 1996 as part of a plan to establish a whites-only nation. Attorney General William Barr first announced the resumption of federal executions a year ago.
- Daniel Lewis Lee and an accomplice murdered gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8 year old daughter, Sarah Powell, as they stole guns and money to use in their plot as members of the Aryan Peoples’ Republic. The killers used stun guns on the victims, sealed trash bags with duct tape over their heads to suffocate them, and dumped their bodies in an Arkansas bayou.
- Lee claimed his innocence and appealed that the use of lethal injection with pentobarbital would be cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Lower courts issued rulings delaying the executions of Lee and three other death row inmates, but the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the early hours of Tuesday morning rejecting those claims with the four liberals in dissent.
- The unsigned majority opinion read in part:
“Hours before the first execution was set to take place, the District Court preliminarily enjoined all four executions on the ground that the use of pentobarbital likely constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Vacatur of that injunction is appropriate because, among other reasons, the plaintiffs have not established that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim. That claim faces an exceedingly high bar. “This Court has yet to hold that a State’s method of execution qualifies as cruel and unusual.” For good reason ― “[f]ar from seeking to superadd terror, pain, or disgrace to their executions, the States have often sought more nearly the opposite,” developing new methods, such as lethal injection, thought to be less painful and more humane than traditional methods, like hanging, that have been uniformly regarded as constitutional for centuries. The Federal Government followed this trend by selecting a lethal injection protocol ― single-dose pentobarbital ― that has become a mainstay of state executions.”
- Justice Stephen Breyer wrote one of the dissenting opinions, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and read in part:
“Given the finality and seriousness of a death sentence, it is particularly important to ensure that the individuals sentenced to death are guilty, that they received full and fair procedures, and that they do not spend excessively long periods of time on death row. Courts must also ensure that executions take place through means that are not inhumane.”
- Two additional federal executions are scheduled to occur this week although one is currently on hold pending a legal appeal.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / AVNphotolab)
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