Civil Liberties

The Federal Death Penalty Returns  

State-level executions have been on the decline since 2000, but the federal government recently got back in the business of executing prisoners.

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The federal government is back in the business of executing prisoners.

Prior to 2020, the last federal death row inmate to be executed was Louis Jones Jr., put to death by lethal injection in 2003. Only three federal prisoners were executed under GOP President George W. Bush, among them Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. None were executed under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Seventeen years after Jones' execution, on July 14, the United States government executed Daniel Lewis Lee. Just two days later, the feds executed Wesley Ira Purkey. The next day, the feds executed Dustin Lee Honken. On August 26, they executed Lezmond Mitchell. The Trump administration has now executed more death row inmates than any president since Dwight Eisenhower.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in July 2019 that he had directed the Bureau of Prisons to resurrect the execution protocols and scheduled Lee, Purkey, Honken, and two other men for lethal injections. The Justice Department selected death row inmates who had been convicted of particularly brutal crimes involving either the elderly or children.

When Barr made his announcement, he said that the Justice Department and the federal government "owe it to their victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

But in Lee's case, the family of the victims had opposed his execution for years. Lee was convicted in 1999 after he traveled to Arkansas to rob gun dealer William Mueller as part of a white separatist plot. He ended up killing Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, and dumping their bodies in the Illinois Bayou.

Lee was the accomplice of another man who had masterminded the crimes and had been sentenced to life in prison—the same sentence the victims' family wanted for Lee.

While the legal fights delayed Lee's execution, with challenges making it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justice Department was ultimately granted permission to carry out the execution via injection of pentobarbital.

Barr's move is a significant reversal of a broad trend away from capital punishment. State-level executions have been on the decline since 2000. Since 1973, 170 inmates on death row have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three have been freed just this year. There's a very real possibility that if federal executions continue, Barr will be sending innocent men to their deaths.

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  1. When Barr made his announcement, he said that the Justice Department and the federal government “owe it to their victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

    Barr’s not wrong, but the feds should never have the power to kill.
    Look at what a hot mess the FBI is right now. What with Comey and now Christopher Wray frauding and lying under oath, it’s obvious that the system is rotten from the top to the bottom.
    Literally millions of Americans are now regarding – with justification – Americs’s premier law enforcement agency as corrupt and politically biased, possibly personally dangerous to them.

    Some people probably deserve to be ripped apart by an angry mob, but until the US gets a justice system that’s substantially less corrupt we can’t trust it’s decisions.

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    1. Barr’s not wrong, but the feds should never have the power to kill.

      They don’t.

      The jury decides if a convicted criminal dies.

      The feds manufacture endless bullshit bureaucratic maneuvers to keep the bastards alive.

      1. The jury may decide but the feds hold the power.

        1. The power to………do what exactly?

          Carry out the sentence the jury passed down?

          The power remains in the hands of the people.

          1. the sentence the jury passed down

            Only six states have jury sentencing. Everywhere else the judge sentences.

            And don’t forget the involvement of the cops who plant evidence, the prosecutor who railroads, the lazy judge who lets him get away with it. All civil servants.

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    2. Although something’s a little fishy, what with you being a foreigner and all. Why do you know so much about this country ? What’s your end game here ?

      Not. Adding. Up.

      1. I’m not sure if your serious. I’m a Canadian… do you not understand how North America works?
        The difference between Vancouver and Seattle, Detroit and Windsor or Calgary and Minneapolis is far less than between Boston and Cleveland.
        Were not foreign like a Texan to a Berliner.

        1. “It isn’t even a real country anyway.”

          1. We really aren’t.
            Vancouver and Victoria are part of the Pacific Northwest, the Territories and Prairie provinces share the culture of Montana and the Dakotas, Ontario is a Midwestern state, and the Maritimes include Maine.
            Only Quebec and Newfoundland are unique.

        2. 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border.

    3. No further comments necessary.

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  3. There are people who commit crimes so heinous, they deserve to die. That is the case with these cretins. Give them the needle, and be done with this.

    1. I agree with the first sentence, however I do not trust corrupt cops and prosecutors do get it right. They don’t care if they convict an innocent person as long as they get a conviction.

      1. Cripes, I’m agreeing with sarcasmic.

        1. This pretty cut and dry – even progs are on board.
          We need to render intelligence agencies impotent, so we can regulate them properly. If we get rid of them, they’ll just come back as hidden agencies that are too classified to reveal.

          1. Ha ha. I’m branded a prog because I’m not a fan of Trump. Before that I was branded a conservative because I didn’t like Obama. When the Ds get the White House again I’ll be branded a conservative again. Funny how that works.

      2. They in fact have an incentive to kill suspects, because (a) less work than finding the real killer, (b) dead men tell no tails and the coverup is easier, and (c) worse (to them) to lose face over a mistake than literally bury the mistake.

  4. I don’t trust government anywhere near enough to give them this much power and expect it to not be abused the same way they abuse it everywhere else.

    1. That’s a dodge.

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  7. Absolutely outrageous. We should not be executing prisoners. Instead, we should be releasing them so they can work for Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch.

    #EmptyThePrisons

    1. Another rousing joint meeting of Libertarians For Private Prisons and Libertarians For Government Killing (of the Right People) is convened.

      Carry on, clingers . . . but only so far and so long as your betters permit, as always.

      1. Go back and tell your handlers that you were fooled by OBL.

    2. #EmptyThePrisons

      If this isn’t trending, it should be.

  8. If Trump really wanted to make America great again, he would reinstitute decapitations. He could wear a little crown and say “Off with his head!” Lots of people would tune in to the livestream.

  9. William Barr is a cafeteria Catholic, cherrypicking the authoritarian and right-wing parts?

    Opus Dei is more full of shit than I expected . . . just a bunch of obsolete, low-character, disaffected clingers.

    1. Hey dingus, you love niggers so much you want to see heinous men walk free. I am a law abiding African American man. I was born in the deep south. I grew up under jim crow. I served 5 years in Vietnam. And I know America is not racist. Niggers must be executed. All the fucking niggers should be put through a meat grinder.

  10. All the Trump boners here who cheer these executions should thank Joe “Crime Bill” Biden.

  11. If you support capital punishment and limited government, you are lying about one of them. The cognitive dissonance that must happen to simultaneously think DoJ is a bunch of idiots and also think they should be given the right to kill people is bonkers.

    1. The current death penalty is the modern day version of public lynchings, which is why it enjoys populist support. States used to have public hangings but moved them into prisons because too many drunk yahoos showed up. These are the same types who today cheer on executions but don’t want the government to touch their guns

      1. Yes, we want capital punishment for capital crimes, and correct we do not want the government to “touch” our guns.

        You clear on that now leftie shitface?

        1. You saying you trust the cops and prosecutors to catch the right person, not hide exculpatory evidence, not lie on the stand, allow the accused to have competent council, and otherwise do everything possible to ensure an innocent person isn’t put to death?

          I don’t.

          1. So you don’t trust the system?

            Stop all convictions and punishment, or return to vigilantism?

            Because it’s one or the other really. Or are you just to immature to want to make the difficult decisions about capital crimes and would rather just lock people away for life because that’s less icky?

            1. All I said is that I don’t trust the system enough to let it dole out death. Take the rest of your comment and stick it up your ass.

              1. If you don’t trust the system, then you should be pointing out alternatives. But instead you would rather whine like a clueless child who is afraid to make a difficult decision.

                But my question stands….if you don’t trust the system, what will it be… Stop all convictions and punishments, or return to vigilantism?

                It’s one or the other in the real world.

                1. Wow dude. You seem to be taking this rather personally. Why is that? You a prosecutor or something?

                  1. lol. you can’t answer my question, so result to thinking I’m a prosecutor.

                    And no, its not personal. Except that you see to have an inability to actually present any mature points.

                    1. You assert that if I don’t trust the system enough to execute people then I can’t trust it to do anything. That’s a false equivalency, so of course I’m not going to answer. Do you still beat your wife?

                2. If I point out a fatal flaw in the design of a plane, but don’t know how to fix it, would you unleash a tirade of personal insults and then order people to fly it anyway, knowing that they might die?

  12. “Lee was convicted in 1999 after he traveled to Arkansas to rob gun dealer William Mueller as part of a white separatist plot. He ended up killing Mueller, his wife Nancy, and their 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, and dumping their bodies in the Illinois Bayou.”

    Interesting example. If I was on the jury I would have voted for the death penalty without hesitation.
    Really don’t understand the complaint here, when the voters have consistently supported capital punishment. The Feds aren’t just running around executing prisoners. They are following the directives of the people…instead of previously ignoring the will of the people.

    1. Yes, governments do charge, prosecute, and kill innocent people. IIRC, the Illinois governor commuted all death sentences because in one year, of the 23 people who left deathrow, 11 did by execution, 12 did because they had been framed by police and/or prosecutors.

      Libertarians don’t trust government. That includes not trusting police and prosecutors to always do the right thing.

      1. “That includes not trusting police and prosecutors to always do the right thing.”

        The only thing I trust cops and prosecutors to do is put their careers before the lives of innocent people.

      2. And I agree that our justice system needs reform. But those stats themselves should be questioned, because it gives undue trust to activist lawyers who have the express desire to attach any capital conviction. How many of those commuted sentences were due to clear instances of misconduct or rather open questions identified with 20/20 hindsight? Because I’ve seen a number of these commutations over silly things like a critical piece of evidence wasn’t adequately maintained in the 15year span of time since the original trial. not that the person was ‘innocent’, but that the extensive legal action after the fact generated new reasonable doubt.

        1. No system is perfect, and that is a difficult to swallow when life is on the line. But that also happens orders of magnitude more frequently with medical decisions.
          We entrust doctors and hospitals to make the best decisions they can, knowing that very often they fail and people die/suffer as a result. In egregious cases, there are legal/financial consequences, but the vast majority of times it is chalked up to human fallibility.
          Why does any rational person hold the justice system to a higher standard? People are fallible and mistakes will be made. but does that mean we give up on the adult responsibility of making difficult decisions? Instead of looking at the evidence available and assessing that a crime is worthy of a capital punishment, and following through on it in rare instances, we’d rather put the person in jail for decades as we wring our hands endlessly.

          1. Because State actors are untouchable. Qualified immunity for cops and other agents, and absolute immunity for prosecutors and judges, along with coverups all in the service of campaign materials for a promotion and taxpayer-paid sweetheart pension — these are not available to doctors and nurses, who instead have to pay for expensive malpractice insurance and worry about losing their jobs instead of getting a promotion.

            1. That’s a weak argument, as doctors already have what is essentially immunity. If they are criminally negligent, no, but the vast majority of decisions and failures are not that and are addressed via the malpractice insurance. Fundamentally no different then how the fed/state/local governments end up coughing up millions in compensation to those they have wronged. Egregious wrongs result in doctors losing their jobs…not unlike police, prosecutors, or testing-lab managers.
              And unlike medical errors, capital convictions in our current system are held to incredibly high levels of oversight….millions of dollars in legal hours to pour through every minutia of the trial and countless appeals. Perhaps not the government doing this, but the activist lawyers are seriously holding the government to a high standard in capital cases….the oversight is there.

              1. Doctors don’t generally commit malpractice on purpose, whereas cops and prosecutors regularly lie and cheat to increase their conviction numbers. Also I would assume that a doctor’s insurance premiums would increase with every fuckup, while cops and prosecutors rarely if ever face consequences for their misdeeds.

                I don’t agree with your comparison at all.

              2. Weak argument only because you did not read it. Doctors have to buy malpractice insurance and have to sweat losing their license to practice medicine, for honest mistakes. Cops have qualified immunity, pProsecutors and judges have absolute immunity, and their crimes are intentional fraud, deliberately framing people, forging evidence, inducing witnesses to flat-out lie, hiding evidence, every kind of perjury possible because they are either too lazy to do their job, or corrupt enough to ant to hurt somebody they don’t like. And meanwhile, the real criminals are laughing at getting away with it.

                If you can only call that a weak difference, you must be a cop or prosecutor or judge yourself, or a friend or relative was killed by a medical mistake and you are going to throw everybody out with the bath water.

                1. People inside the system have much more faith in it than people who have been put through the system.

                2. You are making claims of vast fraud in capital cases that is not supported by the evidence.

                  1. Any fraud is enough to justify opposing the death penalty.

          2. Note that the mistakes you worry about are not mistakes, they are intentional fraud. They are not made in the heat of the moment. They are deliberate fraud calculated to frame someone they know is innocent, or at the very least know they do not have evidence of guilt.

            How many doctors do that?

            1. Intentional fraud? What’s the percentage? Humans suck and since governments are run by humans, they suck too. So there will certainly be cases when the aforementioned sucky humans messed things up, intentionally or not.
              But ultimately, all systems run by human have a percentage of fail, and a percentage of sociopathic evil.
              And knowing that, we proceed with life anyway and suck it up as part of our existence. Demanding perfection is not a viable path or it would paralyze society from doing almost anything, whether it is the medical system or the legal system.

              1. In the Illinois case, it was over half. Is that not enough for you?

                1. I looked up Illinois death penalties. I can’t find anything like what you are referring to.

        2. I have no doubt that most of the prisoners with the commuted sentences were dirtbags who were guilty of enough crimes that their execution would be no great loss to society. BUT:
          * It means the real killers are still not caught and not punished
          * It means the cops and/or prosecutors lied to kill the wrong person
          And those are two things I do not accept should happen in a good criminal justice system.

  13. I oppose the death penalty for a host of reasons.

    These specific cases don’t seem to trigger any of them.

    I suppose the closest would be the argument that because there are so few, there must be a political motivation to be able to claim they’d executed people, without going to the trouble of executing many people.

    “The most since W!”

  14. I just want the government to stop lying to us. If they are due for execution, then get it over with. If they are going to be serving life in prison, then make it official.

    What I do not appreciate is explicitly political games being played with the lives of these criminals.

  15. None were executed under Democratic President Barack Obama.

    None on U.S. soil, anyway.

    1. Burn!

  16. Never give the government the power of execution

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  18. Prison should only be for people who might possibly be released some day. If someone is so dangerous and so heinous that they can’t be free to ever exist in society better to just kill them and save on resources.

  19. Reason going to bat for dem niggers as usual. Who gets hurt the most? Law abiding blacks. Dem niggers motherfucking must fucking bitch ass motherfucking cunt and pussy licking die motherfucking.

  20. If government is given the power of life and death, they will kill innocent people. There simply is no getting around that. Yes, I agree there are some crimes so heinous that the criminal deserves death, but how on earth do you justify killing innocents to achieve that result? Life imprisonment may rob innocent people of many years of their life, but at least the possibility remains to prove their innocence and eventually redress the injustice. Dead is dead. With a capital sentence, there can be no such possibility.

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