Trump set to execute more inmates than any other president - with more due before Biden takes office

Donald Trump has enthusiastically embraced the death penalty (Getty Images)
Donald Trump has enthusiastically embraced the death penalty (Getty Images)

Three death row prisoners are to be executed by the federal government in the window of time before Joe Biden takes office, as Donald Trump continues his unprecedented and enthusiastic embrace of capital punishment.

Mr Trump ordered in July 2019 ordered a resumption of federal executions and this year, on 14 July, the first prisoner was put to death, ending a 17 year hiatus.

His administration has executed seven people so far this year, and expects to execute three more before Christmas - meaning that he will have put more people to death in a single year than any other president.

Furthermore, no president before him has ever executed death row inmates in the “lame duck” period.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said Mr Trump was "out of step with federal practices for more than a century."

"No-one has ever attempted to carry out so many executions at the federal level," he told Newsweek.

"No-one in modern American history has attempted to carry out so many executions in such a short period of time, and no-one has done so in a manner that so closely disregards the rule of law."

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The federal death penalty applies in all 50 states and US territories but is used relatively rarely.

In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, in Furman v. Georgia in 1972. They put it back on the books four years later, and most states resumed executions.

It was not reinstated at a federal level until 1988, however, and was then expanded in 1994 to make 60 offences eligible for federal execution - among them treason, espionage, murder involving torture or government officials, and first degree murder.

Now, 28 US states have the death penalty on the books.

In recent years, New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), Maryland (2013), New Hampshire (2019) and Colorado (2020) have legislatively abolished the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility for parole.

<p>More than half of US states do not have the death penalty</p>Death Penalty Information Center

More than half of US states do not have the death penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

George W. Bush was the only other president, since 1988, to order federal executions.

Mr Trump has outpaced Mr Bush, and sparked anger by pressing ahead with highly contentious cases.

On 26 August the only Native American on death row was executed by the federal government, despite objections from many Navajo leaders who had urged Mr Trump to halt the execution on the grounds it would violate tribal culture and sovereignty.

On 8 December the government plans to execute Lisa Montgomery, who will be the first woman federally executed since 1953.

She is a victim of sex trafficking who suffers from psychosis and complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, according to anti-death penalty advocates.

On 10 December they plan to put to death Brandon Bernard for the murder of a Texas couple in 1999, when he was 18.

The last time the US government executed a person as young as eighteen at the time of the crime was in 1952.

The third person to be executed during the “lame duck” period is likely to be Orlando Hall, a Black man sentenced to death by an all-white jury in 1994 for kidnapping, raping, and burying a 16-year-old girl alive in retaliation for a bad drug deal.

He never denied killing her, but his lawyers insist racial bias and remorse were not taken into account.

Mr Dunham said the ratcheting up of federal executions were also out of step with the views of Americans.

He told Newsweek support for the death penalty has been waning, and cited a recent Gallup poll that found 56 per cent of Americans are in favour of the death penalty, down from 80 per cent in 1994.

The 2019 Gallup survey also showed that 60 per cent of Americans think life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a more appropriate punishment for murder than the death penalty.

Mr Biden has promised to eliminate the death penalty at a federal level, and try to convince states to take it off their books too.

“Over 160 individuals who’ve been sentenced to death in this country since 1973 have later been exonerated,” his manifesto states.

"Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.

“These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole.”

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