Attorney General William Barr ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of three additional convicted murderers to take place during the presidential transition period, as President-elect Joe Biden has promised to end capital punishment at the federal level after decades of advocating for it as a senator.
All are slated to be executed by lethal injection at the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, and five total death row inmates are scheduled to be put to death on the federal level in the next two months, despite pushback from Democrats who want the Justice Department to hit the pause button until Biden is in office.
Alfred Bourgeois, who was convicted in 2004 of abusing, torturing, and beating to death his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter in 2002 by punching her in the face, whipping her with a cord, burning her foot with a lighter, and smashing the back of her head against his truck until she died, is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 11.
Cory Johnson, a drug trafficker convicted in 1993 for the murder of seven people in 1992 during a killing spree related to what he saw as insults or rivalries in the drug trade, including killing one person at close range and another who he thought had failed to pay for crack cocaine, along with that victim’s sister and a friend, is scheduled to receive the death penalty on Jan. 14, 2021.
Dustin Higgs, who was convicted in 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of three women in 1996, when Higgs was rejected by one of the women at a party, offered the women a ride home, instead drove them to a secluded road and ordered his friend to kill them, which he did by shooting two in the chest and one in the back of the head, is scheduled to be put to death on Jan. 15, 2021.
The Supreme Court denied an appeal by Orlando Hall on Nov. 12, allowing the execution to move forward just before midnight. It was the eighth federal execution since Barr greenlighted the punishment this summer. Hall, a drug dealer who kidnapped, raped, bludgeoned, soaked in gasoline, then buried alive a 16-year-old girl in 1994, was executed on Thursday, more than two decades after his 1996 jury conviction.
Lisa Montgomery, found guilty of strangling a pregnant woman to death and cutting her open to kidnap her child in 2004, and Brandon Bernard, found guilty of murdering a husband and wife who were youth pastors on a military reservation in 1999, are slated to be executed on Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, respectively.
Barr, who in the summer of 2019 unveiled guidelines for resuming capital punishment under federal law following a hiatus stemming back to 2003, announced the resumption of federal executions this summer.
“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” Barr said, adding that “we owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
In response to Barr’s announcement in 2019, then-candidate Biden tweeted, “Because we can’t ensure that we get these cases right every time, we must eliminate the death penalty.” Biden’s campaign website stated that “Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example. These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole.”
The Biden transition team did not respond to the Washington Examiner’s questions about his views on the convicted murderers scheduled to be executed and about the specifics of what he would do as president about the death penalty.
A number of Democratic lawmakers wrote to Barr on Nov. 13.
“We urge you to suspend all federal executions so the incoming Biden-Harris administration can evaluate and determine the future use of the death penalty by the federal government. The failure to do so will cause irrevocable injustice,” they said.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the concerns raised by Democrats.
Convicted murderers Daniel Lee, Welsey Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, Lezmond Mitchell, Keith Nelson, William LeCroy Jr., and Christopher Vialva have all received the federal death penalty since the summer.
Biden changed his position on the death penalty after Barr’s announcement in the summer of 2019, calling for its abolition despite having been among the Senate’s most vocal supporters, previously bragging in the early 1990s that in one of his crime bill proposals, “We do everything but hang people for jaywalking.”
Biden reversed his decadeslong position last summer during the Democratic primary while under pressure from his liberal base and his rivals, releasing a criminal justice reform plan repudiating his signature 1994 crime bill and calling for the “elimination” of the death penalty nationwide.
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