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Justice Department resumes capital punishment after nearly two decades, orders executions of five inmates

By Kristine Phillips, USA Today

The federal government will start carrying out death sentences for the first time in nearly two decades, Attorney General William Barr said on Thursday, ordering officials to schedule executions for five inmates.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has not executed anyone since 2003, and it had faced legal challenges to how it planned to carry out capital punishment in the future. In reversing that informal moratorium, Barr ordered the government to adopt a new method for executing prisoners, replacing its previous lethal cocktail with injections of a single drug.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr said in a statement. “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 new protocol is similar to the one used by states such as Georgia, Missouri and Texas, the Justice Department said. Fourteen states have used pentobarbital in more than 200 executions, and the Supreme Court has upheld the use of the drug.

Barr ordered the executions of five men, all of whom were convicted of murder and have exhausted their appeals.

Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, was convicted of murdering a family, including an 8-year-old girl. Lezmond Mitchell was convicted of killing an elderly woman. Wesley Ira Purkey raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl. Alfred Bourgeois molested and beat to death his 2 1/2-year-old daughter. Dustin Lee Honken killed five people, including a mother and her young daughters.

The last federal inmate executed was Louis Jones, Jr., a disgraced Gulf War veteran who was killed in 2003 after he was convicted in the rape and murder of a 19-year-old Army recruit in Texas.

This article originally appeared in USA Today.

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