AG Barr orders reinstatement of the federal death penalty

Attorney General William Barr directed the Justice Department on Thursday to adopt a new rule for carrying out the death penalty, which would restore executions in the federal system for the first time in 16 years.

"We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system," Barr said.

In response to the order, the Bureau of Prisons set execution dates for five men on federal death row who have exhausted their legal appeals, all of whom were convicted of murdering children in especially violent crimes. Four of the five also killed adult victims. Their executions are to be carried out in December and January.

"Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals," Barr said. Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date, the department said in a statement.

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States with the death penalty
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States with the death penalty

Alabama

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Arizona

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Arkansas

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California

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Colorado

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Florida

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Georgia

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Idaho

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Indiana

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Kansas

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Kentucky

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Louisiana

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Missouri

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Montana

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Nebraska

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Nevada

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New Hampshire

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Ohio

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Oklahoma

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Pennsylvania

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Texas

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Washington

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Since the Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in the mid-1970s, after an earlier ruling had declared its application unconstitutional, the federal government has executed only three inmates, including Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. Legal challenges involving the system for using three drugs to carry out lethal injections led to court rulings that stopped federal executions in 2003.

The last federal execution occurred that year, when Louis Jones Jr. was put to death for raping and murdering a 19-year-old female soldier.

Barr's order directs the Bureau of Prisons to use a single drug, a powerful barbiturate called pentobarbital, in its lethal execution chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Three states — Georgia, Missouri and Texas — have also used that same drug to administer the death penalty.

After a botched state execution in Oklahoma, then-President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to review the use of lethal injection drugs in 2014. Pharmaceutical companies that make drugs used by states for lethal injections have refused to make them available for that purpose, further complicating the task of carrying out executions.

Sixty inmates are currently on the federal death row, but many are still pursuing legal appeals, including convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of setting off a bomb at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Dylann Roof, sentenced to death for killing nine black worshipers in June 2015 at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, is also among the inmates on federal death row.

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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
Seated on his bunk in the death cell of Iberia Parish Courthouse, convinced that 'The Lord is Still with Me,' is Willie Francis, a 17-year-old who won a million-to-one chance of a reprieve from death when the electric chair failed to kill him, or even hurt him, at his scheduled execution on May 3. Sentenced to die for the murder of a St. Martinville druggist a year ago, Francis was strapped in the chair. The current was applied. The doomed man squirmed and jumped. But when the current was shut off, he was unharmed. 'It tickled a little,' he said. The state will try again to carry out the execution on Thursday May 9th.

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This is John Wayne Gacy's police arrest photo from Dec. 21, 1978. Following intensive research, investigation and surveillance, Gacy was arrested by the Des Plaines (Ill.) Police Department on Thursday, Dec. 21, 1978. After being charged with and serving time for 33 murders, Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection. Today, Monday, Nov. 23, 1998, technicians began preliminary work on a possible excavation at an apartment building on Chicago's Northwest Side in search of as many as four more possible victims of the mass murderer. The apartment building at one time, was the home of Gacy's mother, and Gacy had done some construction work there. The information regarding the location was recently released from a retired Chicago police officer who said he had seen Gacy carrying a shovel near the area at about 3 a.m. one day in 1975. The former officer reportedly thought little of the Gacy sighting until three years later, when Gacy was charged with 33 murders. The apartment building is about four miles away from Gacy's house.

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A portrait of mass murderer Ted Bundy, responsible for a string of murders in Washington state, Utah, and Florida in the 1970s. He was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

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Aileen Wuornos is shown in this undated photograph from the Florida Department of Corrections. Wournos was executed by lethal injection October 9, 2002 in Florida for murdering six men when she was a prostitute.

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Admitted mass-slayer Charles Starkweather is shown entering court for the second day of his trial for murder. Starkweather admitted killing 11 people and was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

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Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is shown being escorted from the Noble County Courthouse as he is transported to Oklahoma City for arraignment in this April 22, 1995 file photo. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed after being sentenced to death for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, a crime that took 168 lives and shook a complacent America to the core.

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Gary Gilmore, responsible for the shooting deaths of two men, was executed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

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Media witnesses to the firing squad execution of John Albert Taylor examine the chair in which Taylor sat as he was shot to death at 12:03 a.m. Mountain time January 26 at the Unita State Penitentiary in Utah. The execution of Taylor was the first by firing squad in the United States since the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah.

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Stanley 'Tookie Williams' was responsible for several murders and other crimes and was executed in California on December 13, 2005. Williams helped found the Crips gang, but was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-gang efforts. He authored such books as 'Life in Prison,' encouraging kids to stay out of gangs, and his memoir 'Blue Rage, Black Redemption'.'

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Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010. She was the first woman executed in the state in nearly 100 years.

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William Bonin (left), a 33-year-old truck driver and registered sex offender, was accused of the 'torture' murders of at least 13 and possibly 21 young males, suspected victims of the so called 'Freeway Killer. He was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also said Vernon Butts (right) was an accomplice in at least six of the 21 murders.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for Boston Marathon bombing, was sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.

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Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a mass shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(Ho New / Reuters)

Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted murderer and sex offender, was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008.

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Coy Wesbrook was executed in 2016. He fatally shot five people in 1997 with a hunting rifle in a killing spree launched when he found his ex-wife having sex with other men.

(REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters)

Dylann Roof, the man convicted of murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston was condemned to death by a federal jury on January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Handout)

Death row inmate Ricky Gray is shown in this undated photo released in Washington, DC, U.S. in 2016. Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Christopher Wilkins, 48, Texas death row inmate convicted of killing two people in a revenge plot after one had tricked him in a $20 drug deal, is shown in this undated photo in Huntsville, Texas, U.S.. Courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Deathrow inmate Mark Asay is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters August 14, 2017.

He was executed by a lethal injection that included a drug never before used in a U.S. execution, state officials said.

(Florida Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS)

Vernon Madison, one of Alabama's longest-serving death row inmates, pictured in this handout photo, to is set to be executed at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, United States on May 12, 2016 even as the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a review into whether the state's current sentencing scheme is constitutional. 

(Alabama Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS)

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"This is counter to the national trend," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment. "The death penalty is disappearing from whole sections of the country and eroding in others."

Both the number of death sentences imposed by juries and executions remained near historic lows in 2018, as public support for capital punishment continued to decline. The latest Gallup poll showed 56 percent of Americans supporting the death penalty, down from a high of 80 percent in the mid-1990s.

"The question with this administration has been, was it going to follow the national pattern that we've seen or was it going to be an outlier," Dunham said.

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