WASHINGTON — The federal authorities will resume executions of death-row inmates after a virtually two-decade hiatus, Attorney General William P. Barr mentioned Thursday, countering a broad nationwide shift away from the dying penalty as public help for it has dwindled.
The announcement reverses what had been basically a moratorium on the federal dying penalty. Five males convicted of murdering youngsters might be executed in December or January on the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., Mr. Barr mentioned, and extra executions might be scheduled later.
Prosecutors nonetheless search the dying penalty in some federal instances, together with for Dylann S. Roof, an avowed white supremacist who gunned down 9 African-American churchgoers in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. But the federal authorities has solely executed solely three inmates because it reinstated the dying penalty in 1988, together with the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, who was put to dying in 2001, and Louis Jones Jr., who was executed in 2003 for the rape and homicide of a feminine soldier.
“Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals,” Mr. Barr mentioned in an announcement. “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.”
The number of executions in the United States had fallen to less than two dozen a year since a high in 1999, when 98 executions were carried out at the state level, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Public support for the death penalty hit a two-decade low three years ago, when just under half of Americans polled backed it for people convicted of murder, down from nearly 80 percent in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center. Support for capital punishment ticked back up to 54 percent last year, the center found.
Capital punishment fell out of favor as researchers began to question whether it deterred people from committing heinous crimes and as more defense lawyers proved that their clients were wrongfully convicted.
Civil rights advocates also noted that there was a great racial disparity among inmates on death row and argued that the penalty was disproportionately applied to black men.
With pressure building to replace the capital punishment with life in prison, 21 states have outlawed the death penalty.
Advocates and inmates argued in lawsuits against state and federal governments that the practice was inhumane, and many of them focused on botched executions where the drug cocktail used was ineffective or caused severe suffering before death.
Nearly a decade ago, drugmakers in the United States and Europe stopped selling to the federal government the sedatives that it had long used to render prisoners unconscious before executing them. In at least one case, a prisoner regained consciousness during an execution in which an alternative sedative was used.
On Thursday, Mr. Barr said that he had issued a protocol that replaces the three-drug procedure previously used in federal executions with a single drug, pentobarbital, which is widely available.
In 2015, the Supreme Court examined whether lethal injection was unconstitutionally cruel punishment.
The court upheld the use of lethal injection, but in a dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer urged the Supreme Court to take a fresh look at the constitutionality of the death penalty.
He said that there was evidence that innocent people have been executed, that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was warped by racial discrimination and politics.
But only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Breyer’s dissent, and there have been no signs that a majority of the justices have qualms about the constitutionality of the death penalty. To the contrary, the court’s five more conservative members have expressed frustration with what they say is litigation gamesmanship used by opponents of the death penalty to put off executions.
Adam Liptak contributed reporting.
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