There hasn’t been an execution of a death row inmate since 2003 in the United States federal system, and the Trump administration is trying to change that. However, the U.S. Supreme Court at least temporarily blocked a number of execution orders from Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department. The Supreme Court was essentially confirming an earlier block by a federal judge lower in the system, and the decision on whether to proceed with the executions now goes to an appeals court.
A call to act with dispatch
Three conservative judges on the Supreme Court wrote their own statement encouraging the lower court to reach a decision within sixty days. Frustrated in its efforts to proceed on a number of executions, the Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to rule on the case in early December.
Advocacy groups against the death penalty have expressed cautious optimism about the Supreme Court ruling and say that they are glad that there are legal roadblocks to the Trump administration getting what it wants in these particular cases. On the other side of the argument, pro-death penalty groups note that many of the crimes of the individuals in question on death row were committed decades ago, and the families of their victims need to get justice and closure. All the inmates in these particular cases were convicted on federal charges of murder.
Over the past 16 years, all the executions in the United States have been carried out by state governments. Inmates on death row in the federal system have not been executed largely because of arguments that current methods of execution by lethal injection are not humane. For years, there has been extensive litigation regarding the federal government’s execution protocol and procedures.
Most federal death row inmates today are housed at a facility in Terra Haute, Indiana. The inmate first on the list to be executed is convicted murderer Daniel Lewis Lee who is a white supremacist and who killed a family of three in the 1990’s.
Next on the list is convicted murderer Wesley Purkey who, in separate incidents during the 1990’s in Kansas, murdered a 16-year-old teenager and an 80-year-old woman. Purkey developed Alzheimer’s Disease in prison, and his lawyers are arguing that his execution should not proceed because of his illness. Purkey also has a long history of mental illness, and some say this is relevant.