Anti-death penalty group rallies in Washington, urges Biden to end federal executions

An anti-death penalty group plans to hold a rally Monday in Washington, DC to demand an end to the death penalty for federal inmates.

The Abolitionist Action Committee rally will call on Congress to pass the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2021, which would end capital punishment at the federal level and require the 44 federal inmates currently on death row be sentenced again.

The Justice Department under former President Trump resumed federal executions in 2020, ending a 17-year hiatus.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the bill’s lead sponsor, said last week that the 13 federal inmates executed under the Trump administration were more than the total number put to death by the 11 previous presidents in the past. over the past 70 years.

“This included the execution of mentally handicapped individuals – it is a grave injustice that has exposed the fundamental immorality of the death penalty,” the Illinois Democrat said.

Mr Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, also took a swipe at the Supreme Court and said ‘the conservative majority has refused to ensure that the legal challenges of those on death row are given due consideration’ .

“Carrying out these executions during the pandemic has unnecessarily put even more lives at risk,” he added.

His bill currently has 19 co-sponsors and his companion legislation in the House, sponsored by Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, has 78 co-sponsors.

Although President Biden campaigned on a promise to end the federal death penalty, he has yet to take action. The Abolitionist Action Committee hopes to change that.

The committee’s sponsor, Death Penalty Action, has launched an online petition to “Abolish and Demolish the Death Penalty” which as of Friday afternoon has garnered 5,408 signatures of the 6,400 sought.

The petition calls on Mr. Biden to commute all federal death sentences and order the demolition of the federal government’s execution chamber, known as “Death House”, which is located in a federal prison on Earth. High, Indiana.

The death penalty “treats people differently based on race, money, politics and geography, rather than the severity of the crime,” the petition states.

“We can and must end the death penalty and reallocate cost savings to provide better services to all families of murder victims and other co-victims, and redouble our efforts to prevent murders from happening. .”

According to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center, two of the 13 federal prisoners put to death during the Trump administration were seriously mentally ill, two had strong evidence of intellectual disability and two contracted the coronavirus in the weeks before their executions. .

The last three federal inmates who were executed received lethal injections just days before Mr. Biden’s inauguration.

Lisa Montgomery, 52, was put to death for strangling a Missouri woman in 2004 and cutting her unborn baby from her stomach. She then tried to pass off the baby as her own. The baby survived. Montgomery was convicted of federal kidnapping causing death.

She was executed on January 13, 2021, and was the first woman to be put to death by the federal government in 67 years.

The following day Corey Johnson, 52, was executed for his involvement in the gang-related killings of 11 people over 45 days in 1992. He was found guilty of seven counts of murder as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise .

Two days later, Dustin John Higgs, 48, was put to death for ordering the murders of three women at a Maryland wildlife refuge in 1996. He was found guilty of three counts of premeditated murder on the first degree, three counts of first degree felony. murder and three counts of kidnapping resulting in death.

Under the Biden administration, Attorney General Merrick Garland suspended federal executions in June while the DOJ launched a review of changes to death penalty policies under Mr Trump.

Policy changes include allowing firing squads, fewer restrictions on lethal injection drugs, and a reduction in the amount of notice given to prisoners before execution.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that all members of the federal criminal justice system not only enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but are also treated fairly and humanely,” Mr. Garland. “This obligation has particular force in capital cases.”

Monday’s rally is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on the sidewalk outside the U.S. Supreme Court and participants also plan to march to the U.S. Capitol and the Hart Senate Office Building.

The event comes on the 45th anniversary of the first state-ordered execution in the United States after the Supreme Court upheld new death penalty laws in 1976. Gary Gilmore, who was convicted of murdering Max Jensen and Ben Bushnell, was executed by firing squad in Utah in 1977.

“Every 5 years we risk being arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, to mark the anniversary of the first execution in the modern age,” the website of the committee.

Eighteen people were arrested during the last rally in 2017, according to the committee.

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