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AG Barr directs Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions of four death-row inmates who murdered kids

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U.S. Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Monday to schedule the executions of four death row inmates convicted of murdering children, among others.

According to a Justice Department press release, in two of the cases, the children were raped before they were killed.

The department noted that in July 2019, Barr directed the BOP to revise the Federal Execution Protocol in order to allow for the use of a single drug, pentobarbital, which is nearly identical to protocols used in hundreds of state executions and which federal courts have repeatedly upheld as constitutional, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Challenges to the use of the drug came under the auspices of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

A district court had prevented the Bureau of Prisons from going ahead with executions under the revised protocol, the Justice Department said, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the ruling, which then cleared the way for the government to resume capital punishment following a hiatus of nearly 20 years.

“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,” said Barr, according to the statement. 

“The four murderers whose executions are scheduled today have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws. 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,” he added.

The four inmates are identified as:

— Daniel Lewis Lee: A member of a white supremacist organization, was convicted of murdering a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl. Lee robbed the family and then shot them all with a stun gun, then covered their heads with plastic bags and sealed them with duct tape before weighing them down with rocks and throwing all three into the Illinois bayou.

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty on May 4, 1999, of several charges including three counts of murder in pursuit of racketeering. He was sentenced to death; his execution has been scheduled for July 13, 2020.

— Wesley Ira Purkey: He was convicted of violently raping a 16-year-old girl before dismembering her body and burning it, then dumping her remains in a septic pond. In addition, Purkey was convicted by a state court in Missouri for using a claw hammer to beat an 80-year-old woman to death who suffered from polio and walked with a cane.

A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri found him guilty on November 5, 2003, of kidnapping a child resulting in the child’s death. His execution has been scheduled for July 15, 2020.

— Dustin Lee Honken: A jury convicted Honken of shooting and killing five people — two men who were to testify against him along with “a single, working mother” and two daughters, 10 and six. Honken was convicted on October 14, 2004, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. He as found guilty of several offenses including five counts of murder “during the course of a continuing criminal enterprise,” the Justice Department said, adding that his execution is scheduled for July 17, 2020.

— Keith Dwayne Nelson: After kidnapping a 10-year-old girl who was rollerblading in front of her home, Nelson then raped her before strangling her to death with a wire. He pled guilty on October 25, 2001to charges of kidnapping and “unlawful interstate transportation of a child for the purpose of sexual abuse which resulted in death,” the DoJ said. His execution is scheduled for August 28, 2020.

“Each of these inmates has exhausted appellate and post-conviction remedies, and no legal impediments prevent their executions, which will take place at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana.  Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date,” the statement noted further.

Last fall, the Trump administration announced a legislative package aimed at speeding up executions of mass shooters sentenced to death.

Jon Dougherty

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