After a 16-year pause, the federal government will resume executing death row inmates, attorney general William Barr announced in a news release Thursday (July 25). The Department of Justice has already scheduled five executions to take place in December and January.
“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 statement says. The inmates, it goes on, were convicted “of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society—children and the elderly.”
For the executions, the government will use one drug, pentobarbital, instead of a three-drug cocktail. Many states have used the drug—a barbiturate—in their executions, but there have been problems with supplying it, as pharmaceutical companies refuse to provide it for lethal injections on ethical grounds. Local governments have turned instead to compounding pharmacies, which are not regulated by the federal government, to get the drug. In Texas, authorities have also been extending the drug’s expiration date, drawing criticism from defense attorneys. Witnesses to executions reported inmates saying they felt like they were “burning.”
The Justice Department release gives the gruesome details of the crimes committed by the inmates. Among them is Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group who murdered a family of three, including a young girl.
According to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 1,500 executions in the United States since 1976, when the US Supreme Court reinstated its use. Texas carries out the highest number of executions, followed by Virginia and Oklahoma. But overall the number has declined. Between 1988 and 2018, there have been 78 people sentenced to death on a federal level, with only three executions carried out.