48°F
weather icon Clear

Judge temporarily stops 1st federal execution in 16 years

Updated November 21, 2019 - 7:47 am

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has temporarily halted the first federal execution in 16 years as a lawsuit on how the government intends to carry it out continues.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutka said in a Wednesday evening ruling that the public is not served by “short-circuiting” legitimate judicial process.

“It is greatly served by attempting to ensure that the most serious punishment is imposed lawfully,” she wrote.

Attorney General William Barr unexpectedly announced in July that the government would begin resuming executions starting Dec. 9, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain. The Justice Department didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Thursday, and the attorney general was traveling.

Most Democrats oppose the death penalty. By contrast, President Donald Trump has spoken often about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.

Federal executions rare

Still, executions on the federal level have been rare. The government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988, the most recent of which occurred in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

Barr said review completed

Barr said in July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume.

He approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug mixture previously used in federal executions with one drug, pentobarbital. This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas.

Some of the chosen convicts challenged the new procedures in court, arguing that the government was circumventing proper methods to wrongly execute inmates quickly.

Danny Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was the first person scheduled to be executed. Lee was convicted in the 1996 deaths of an Arkansas family as part of a plot to set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest.

“This decision prevents the government from evading accountability and making an end-run around the courts by attempting to execute prisoners under a protocol that has never been authorized by Congress,” said the convicts’ attorney, Shawn Nolan. “The court has made clear that no execution should go forward while there are still so many unanswered questions about the government’s newly announced execution method.”

Death penalty legal in 30 states

The death penalty remains legal in 30 states, but only a handful regularly conduct executions. Texas has executed 108 prisoners since 2010, far more than any other state.

Though there hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, the Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions, and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Joe Biden at the national hospitality workers union.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the national hospitality workers union during UNITE HERE's town hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren at Culinary Union
Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Culinary Union town hall in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, 2019.
Secretary of Education visits Henderson school
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited students at Pinecrest Academy in Henderson to talk about college planning on Dec. 4, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump dropped from Terry Fator’s show on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - VIDEO
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - VIDEO
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Bolton, Mulvaney testimony sought for impeachment trial

The president faces likely impeachment in the House, where Democrats have control, but he is expected to be acquitted in a trial in the Senate.

Trump announces trade agreement with China

On the same week the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve two articles of impeachment against him, President Donald Trump announced trade deals with Mexico and Canada, and a preliminary agreement with China. The announcement served as a bookend to Monday’s news that the White House had reached on a deal with House Democrats over the USMCA trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.