New rule may create gas and firing squads as options for executions in the US

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WASHINGTON, DC – The federal government is exploring new options when it comes to carrying out federal executions

Instead of limiting federal authorities to just using lethal injection to execute condemned inmates, they are exploring the use of gas and/or firing squads to put the criminal to death.

In an amended rule which was published in the Federal Register on November 27th, the Justice Department is allowing the federal government to utilize the executions by lethal injection or they can use “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed.” 

According to ABC News, there are several states that have different options prescribed into law when it comes to executing convicted criminals.  They range from the condemned inhaling nitrogen gas, electrocution, or death by a firing squad.

The new rule goes into effect on December 24th and there is no indication that the federal government intends to utilize the new execution methods at any time in the near future.  However, there are five federal executions planned between now and inauguration day.

The AP claims to have spoken to an unnamed source within the federal government that has knowledge of the new rule.  That person allegedly told the AP that the federal government “will never execute an inmate by firing squad or electrocution unless the relevant state has itself authorized that method of execution.”

The person then allegedly told the AP that there were two executions that were scheduled in December of this year.  Both of those are slated to have the condemned executed by lethal injection, however, did not provide any information on how the other three were to meet their fate.

These changes to existing federal executions will likely cause an outcry with democratic leaders and liberals who will claim that executing anyone, much less by firing squad or gas would equate to cruel and inhumane punishment. 

And, if current democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden were to win the election and take office in January, he has pledged in the past to end the death penalty but did not say when he would do so.

There have not been any federal executions since 2003, and in 2014, then President Barack Obama had ordered the Justice Department to do a review capital punishment specifically as it relates to the drugs used in lethal injections. 

US Attorney General William Barr announced in 2019  that the review ordered by Obama was completed, and that a new procedure would be utilized moving forward with lethal injections.

That new procedure would have the three drugs that were used prior to be replaced with only one drug, pentobarbital.  The one drug protocol for federal executions is similar to what is currently being utilized in several other states throughout the United States.

Since the new protocol has been in place, the federal government began executing the condemned throughout the year.  In 2020, the government has executed 8 convicted violent criminals.

Of the twenty-eight states that have the death penalty as an option, all of them have lethal injection available.  However, some of these states are finding the drugs that are used in the lethal injection cocktails are becoming harder to acquire, forcing some of these states to explore other options in order to execute convicted criminals.

Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi all approved the use of nitrogen gas in 2018 for the purposes of executing the condemned violent criminals.  The nitrogen gas will be used to asphyxiate the condemned when the lethal drugs are not an option.

In other states, they have different options in which the condemned can choose from in which to be executed. 

For example, in Florida, the condemned can pick from either lethal injection or electrocution.  In the state of Washington, the condemned can decide to be put to death by hanging. 

In the state of Utah, those who were condemned prior to May of 2004 can also opt to be put to death by a firing squad.

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Man who raped, murdered 16 year old gets last minute reprieve on death sentence – gets killed the next day.

July 16, 2020

TERRE HAUTE, IN – On Wednesday, a federal judge stayed the execution of a man who was scheduled to be put to death, citing his alleged dementia. He was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection, which would have made it the second death penalty sentence carried out this week after a 17-year hiatus.

However, on Thursday, justice was served and he was put to death. 

The Indianapolis Star reported that the Supreme Court vacated the stay and Purkey was pronounced dead at 8:19 a.m. Thursday morning. This was the culmination of some legal wrangling that played out int he days leading up to his execution. 

US News and World Report said that Wesley Ira Purkey, who was convicted in a 1998 kidnapping and killing of a 16-year-old girl received a last-minute reprieve from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., halting the planned execution at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

That facility was the scene of an execution on Tuesday where Daniel Lewis Lee as executed after the Supreme Court refused a last-minute appeal.

Fox 4 in Kansas City said that Chutkan imposed two injunctions on Wednesday which prohibited the federal Bureau of Prisons from putting Purkey to death. The Justice Department immediately appealed Chutkan’s rulings. Fox said that a separate temporary stay was already in place from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the case of Lee, he had been convicted of killing a family in Arkansas in what was described as a plot to build a “whites-only” nation. Among the victims was an 8-year-old girl.

“This competency issue is a very strong issue on paper,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The Supreme Court has halted executions on this issue in the past. At a minimum, the question of whether Purkey dies is going to go down to the last minute.”

Under the ruling, no determination was made as to Purkey’s competency, however Judge Chutkan said the court needed to evaluate the claim, while saying that Purkey would suffer “irreparable harm” if he was put to death prior to the incompetency claim being evaluated.

Also, on Wednesday, a federal judge denied the request from another death row inmate, Dustin Lee Honken, who is scheduled to be put to death on Friday. Honken, a reported Iowa drug kingpin is trying to delay his execution.

In this case, the federal judge said that he would not delay Honken’s execution based on the coronavirus pandemic and noted that the Bureau of Prisons was in the best position to weigh the health risks.

Purkey’s mental health became an issue during his 2003 trial where the death penalty was being considered. Purkey had been charged in connection with the gruesome killing of Jennifer Long, 16 In Kansas City, Missouri.

According to authorities, Purkey raped and stabbed the teen, dismembered her with a chainsaw, burned the body, and then dumped the ashes in a septic pond 200 miles away in Kansas. Purkey was also convicted in a separate case with beating an 80-year-old woman, Mary Ruth Bales of Kansas City, Kansas to death.

However, Purkey’s lawyers argue that his mental fitness when he committed the crimes is a separate issue as to whether or not he is competent to be put to death now. They argued in recent court filings that he suffers from advanced stage Alzheimer’s.

“He has long accepted responsibility for the crime that put him on death row,” said one of his attorneys, Rebecca Woodman. “But as his dementia has progressed, he no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him.”

Fox 4 says that Purkey thinks his planned execution is part of a conspiracy involving his attorneys according to Woodman. They also speak in separate court filings of Purkey’s delusions that people were spraying poison into his room, and the drug dealers had implanted a device in his chest meant to kill him.

Dunham, who teaches law school courses on capital punishment noted that questions of mental fitness for execution are only able to be addressed once an execution date is set.

“Competency is something that is always in flux,” so judges can only assess it in the weeks or days before a firm execution date, Dunham said.

The Supreme Court in 1986 ruled that the Constitution prohibits executing someone who does not have a reasonable understanding surrounding the conditions of their execution. That case involved a man, Alvin Ford who thought he was the pope after his mental condition deteriorated while he was locked up awaiting execution.

Dunham said legal standards surrounding whether someone understands why an execution is taking place are complex.

“I could say I was Napoleon,” he said. “But if I say I understand Napoleon was sentenced to death for a crime and is executed for it—that could allow the execution to go ahead.”

According to his lawyers, Purkey’s mental health issues are not just limited to Alzheimer’s. He was allegedly subject to sexual and mental abuse as a child, and at age 14 was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and psychosis.

The child’s mother last year told the Kansas City Star that she planned to attend Purkey’s execution.

Glenda Lamont told the paper:

“I don’t want to say that I’m happy. At the same time, he is a crazy mad man that doesn’t deserve, in my opinion, to be breathing anymore.”

Last year U.S. Attorney General William Barr was urged by three mental health organizations to halt Purkey’s execution and instead commute his sentence to life without parole.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and the Treatment Advocacy Center complained that Purkey’s execution would “constitute cruel and unusual punishment and does not comport with ‘evolving standards of decency.’”

President Trump praised Lee’s execution meanwhile in an email, saying the execution “Ensured Total Justice for the Victims of an Evil Killer” and then demanded that Democrat Joe Biden, who now opposes capital punishment, explain his position.

Capital punishment had been subject to an unofficial moratorium since 2014 after the Obama administration ordered a review after an execution in Oklahoma was botched.

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