Attorney General Bill Barr and the DOJ announced Thursday that the federal government would both reverse an informal moratorium that paused capital punishment in 2003 and adopt a new lethal injection agent. The AG also ordered Hugh J. Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, to schedule the executions of five men.
“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,” Barr asserts in the release.
The document makes it clear that all five death-row inmates scheduled for execution for were “convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society - children and the elderly.”
Those scheduled for execution are all men: Daniel Lewis Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Alfred Bourgeois and Dustin Lee Honken.
Additionally, while the federal government’s previous lethal agent consisted of a drug cocktail, Barr’s addendum calls for those sentenced to be injected with solely pentobarbital sodium. In lower doses the drug, which slows both the brain and nervous system, is used to treat insomnia or prepare patients for surgery.
Paul Wright, the founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), and Kevin Gosztola, a writer for Shadowproof.com and co-host of the podcast Unauthorized Disclosure, joined Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Thursday to discuss the DOJ’s latest motion in this week’s installment of “Criminal Injustice.”
“It’s interesting, because, I think, the American public is largely turning its back on the death penalty. When you look at … the new death sentences being returned by juries, it seems the death penalty in America is literally dying a slow death,” Wright told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou. “Unfortunately, its biggest proponents tend to be politicians and the judiciary. It’s not the American public at large.”
Wright also pointed out that it’s no surprise that there is a common bond between the five death-row inmates immediately scheduled for execution. In fact, the Human Rights Defense Center founder pointed there has been a long-time “politicization of the death penalty” by the government.
Wright explained that in 2001, during US President George W. Bush’s first term, the main pushback from the public on the death penalty came from the fact that “89 or 92% of all the prisoners on federal death row were black or Hispanic.” Rather than this prompting a decrease in executions and an attempt to examine the disparity, there was instead an uptick in sentencing white criminals to capital punishment.
To Wright, the rush to execute child murderers first is simply the “latest episode” of the federal justice politicizing the death penalty, despite the federal government’s attitude not mirroring the public’s.
Gosztola agreed with Wright’s sentiment that there is an effort by the justice system and politicians to coax the public into siding with their views on capital punishment.
Taking it a step further, the writer also highlighted that federal courts in Virginia, Texas and Missouri “account for 42 out of 61 federal death sentences” that have been handed down but not yet carried out.
That said, it comes as no surprise that Barr’s addendum, by his office’s own admittance, “closely mirrors protocols utilized by several states, including currently Georgia, Missouri, and Texas.”
Out of the 1,499 executions in the US since 1976, 1,226 of them have taken place in the South, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.