Attorney General William Barr has set execution dates for five inmates.

Attorney General William Barr has set execution dates for five inmates. John Bazemore / AP

Justice Department to Resume Executing Federal Inmates on Death Row

Bureau of Prisons staff are "professionally trained to do whatever the law asks them to do," official says of carrying out death penalty.

The Justice Department will soon resume using capital punishment for federal inmates sentenced to death, the Trump administration announced on Thursday. 

Attorney General William Barr has already set execution dates for five inmates, including three later this year. The federal government has not used the death penalty since 2003. Barr said administrations of both parties have executed federal inmates and noted those on death row were sentenced to die by “a jury of ... peers after a full and fair proceeding.” 

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the president,” Barr said. “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law—and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

The government has carried out 37 federal executions since 1927, according to the Bureau of Prisons. The last several federal executions, such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s in 2001, took place at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana. The Justice Department said the forthcoming executions will take place there as well, carried out by the Bureau of Prisons. 

“Our staff are professionally trained to do whatever the law asks them to do,” said Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents bureau employees. “That’s part of our oath to carry out our responsibilities.”

The announcement will likely come as “welcome news” for federal correction officers, Young added, who particularly support the use of the death penalty in cases involving the murder of law enforcement personnel. 

State governments that still carry out executions have encountered difficulties procuring the drugs necessary to issue lethal injections. Barr announced on Thursday he was amending the Federal Execution Protocol so the Bureau of Prisons will now use pentobarbital to execute inmates, rather than the previously used three-drug cocktail. 

The first execution is scheduled for Daniel Lewis Lee, who was sentenced to death in 1999 on three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and is set to take place on Dec. 9. There are 62 total federal inmates on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and Justice said additional executions will be scheduled a later date.