As Republican President Donald Trump exits, his administration carried out 13 federal executions. Five convicts, all Blacks, were executed in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s 20 January inauguration, breaking the 130-year-old precedent of pausing executions amid presidential transition. Trump is this country’s most pro-execution POTUSes in more than a 100 years, overseeing the carrying out of executions of a whopping 13 death row inmates since June 2020.
The 5 executions started with convicted murderer, Brandon Bernard, 40, at Terre Haute penitentiary, Indiana and ended with Dustin Higgs, 48, at the same site on 16 January. Bernard apologised to the victims’ family before execution. Attorney General William Barr defended Justice Department as simply following existing laws. But the critics have expressed their concerns, as Mr Biden seeks to end the death penalty after he takes office on 20 January 2020.
Higgs was executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre-Haute in Indiana, after the US Supreme Court rejected a plea for stay of execution. Higgs had ordered his friend to kill three women in January 1996, in a deserted federal nature reserve near Washington. In 2000, he was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murder. The man who shot the women, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Shawn Nolan, Higgs’ lawyer, in their clemency plea addressed to Trump pleaded that it is arbitrary and inequitable to punish Higgs more severely than the actual killer. But Trump, refused clemency with the DOJ fighting for the execution before Trump exits. A court had ordered a stay of execution as Higgs contracted Covid-19 and with damaged lungs, would suffer cruelly when injected with pentobarbital. The Department of Justice then appealed the case and won. The last bid to put a stay on the execution went before the Supreme Court, where Trump appointed conservative majority Judges went ahead with federal executions, since June 2020.
This is not Justice
The Trump government resumed with federal executions from July 2020, after a lengthy gap of 17 years, carrying them out speedily. Among those executed since then, for the very first time in 7 decades, was a woman executed despite reasonable doubts about the status of her mental health. But, the different states postponed all pending executions to avoid the spread of Corona. Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting note to the Supreme Court said it was against Justice; after waiting about 20 years to re-start federal executions, the current Government could have shown some caution and restraint to ensure that this was done lawfully. “When it did not, this Court should have intervened, but did not.” Current POTUS Joe Biden has vowed to scrap death penalty at central level. Democrat lawmakers introduced a bill and as they begin regaining control of the Senate, it could be adopted.
Current policy in the USA
Since the death penalty at federal level was reinstated in 1988 by the US Supreme Court, executions in the US have remained rare. Before Trump took charge, only 3 federal executions took place between 1988 and 2019, under President George W Bush, a Republican, and included iTimothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City federal building bomber. Public support for the death penalty is very low due to problems about method of execution, sourcing drugs for lethal injections, and the cost of lengthy court battles and appeals.