Donald Trump reinstates death penalty for federal crimes

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Five executions have already been scheduled, including for Daniel Lewis Lee who was convicted of murdering a family of three.

The Trump administration has reinstated the US government’s power to order the death penalty for federal crimes – and has started by immediately scheduling five executions.

Those condemned to death have been convicted of murders and sex crimes, the Justice Department said, and are due to be executed by lethal injection using a single drug, pentobarbital, which replaces a three-drug cocktail previously used in federal executions.

It is the first time central government has been able to authorise capital punishment since 2003.

The five people due to be executed are:

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Prior to 2003 the power was used sparingly. There were only three executions after the federal death penalty was restored in 1988, and 37 in total between 1927 and 2003.

There are currently 61 federal inmates on death row, according to Death Row USA – a report from the NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund.

They include Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who planted a deadly bomb at the Boston Marathon in 2013, and Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church members during a Bible study session in 2015 in South Carolina.

“Congress has expressly authorised the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the president,” attorney general William Barr said in a statement.

The decision was immediately condemned by the Democrats. “The federal government should be leading the effort to end this brutal and often cruel punishment,” said Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat.

President Trump has been wanting to increase the use of the death penalty for drug traffickers and gunmen who carry out mass shootings, and has been a long time supporter of it.

In 1989, he took out full-page advertisements in New York newspapers urging officials to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY” following the rape of a jogger in Central Park.

“If the punishment is strong,” Mr Trump wrote then, “the attacks on innocent people will stop”.

The five teenagers accused of the crime were wrongly convicted, with no DNA evidence linking them to the victim. And in 2002 all five convictions were quashed after the perpetrator, a serial rapist and murderer serving life in prison, confessed to the crime and DNA evidence linked him to the victim.

Not long after Mr Trump entered the White House, his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to assess the measures required to resume the use of the death penalty.

The Justice Department said each of the five inmates due to be executed had “exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies”.

Lee will be the first to be executed, on 9 December at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The others will be put to death at the same prison during a six-week period.

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