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The Return Of Federal Executions Under The Trump Administration

An anti-death penalty activist demonstrates in front of the U.S. Justice Department's Robert F. Kennedy Building in Washington, DC.
An anti-death penalty activist demonstrates in front of the U.S. Justice Department's Robert F. Kennedy Building in Washington, DC.

Brandon Bernard was executed in Terre Haute, Indiana on December 11. He was a teenager when he was convicted as an accomplice for murder. Five of the jurors who sentenced him to death had changed their minds on his case. But he was the ninth person on federal death row who was executed this year.

In a statement before his death, Robert Owen, Bernard’s lawyer, reflected on the case.

Brandon’s execution is a stain on America’s criminal justice system. But I pray that even in his death, Brandon will advance his commitment to helping others by moving us closer to a time when this country does not pointlessly and maliciously kill young Black men who pose no threat to anyone, when we hold prosecutors to the highest standards of integrity in every case, and when our leaders exercise their moral authority where it is needed.

Before President Donald Trump’s administration, the Justice Department hadn’t pursued an execution in 17 years. But there have been 10 in 2020 alone, after former Attorney General Bill Barr announced the reinstatement of federal execution in July.

Now, the Trump Justice Department is on track for the most federal executions in modern history. It will be the first time since President Grover Cleveland in 1896 that the federal government kills more than 10 people.

Three more executions are set to take place before President-elect Biden takes office. But why is the Justice Department rushing through these executions? And how does it align with public opinion and capital punishment being used in state prisons?

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