Death penalty abolition activist Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean, a long-time death penalty abolition advocate whose story is the basis for the film Dead Man Walking, said on Monday the Department of Justice is planning new executions for federal inmates soon and called it a “shameful killing spree.”
.@TheJusticeDept is trying to rush through as many federal executions as possible during the “lame-duck” period between now and January 20, 2021. DOJ lawyers have informed federal judges that more execution dates will be announced soon. This shameful killing spree must end.
— Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean) November 18, 2020
The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last week, a group of Democratic senators made a similar request in a letter to Attorney General William Barr, who reinstated the federal death penalty after a 17-year pause in federal executions.
“President-elect Biden’s plan for strengthening America’s commitment to justice includes the elimination of the federal death penalty and Vice-President-elect Harris is an original cosponsor of legislation we have introduced to eliminate the federal death penalty,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter on Friday. “A record number of Americans voted in favour of [Biden and Harris] and they deserve an opportunity to implement their policy agenda without the Trump administration rushing to take preemptive and irreversible steps.”
Since restarting federal executions over the summer, the administration executed seven people, more than the total number over the previous six decades, according to the letter. The death penalty is outlawed in 21 states and the district of Columbia, and there hadn’t been a federal execution since 2003 until the Trump administration took office.
Now, three executions are reportedly scheduled between November and December, including the first woman in 67 years, whose lawyers have sought to delay the case because they are bedridden with coronavirus.
Though Joe Biden was integral in passing the 1994 crime bill, which many credit with exacerbating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the president-elect’s platform this election included many measures that differed from his “tough on crime” past, including a call for an end to capital punishment.
A petition from a group called Faithful America also supports a pause in executions during the lame duck session. Since its release on Friday, it has attracted more than 12,000 signatures.
In response to nationwide protests over racism and police violence, Mr Trump made tough law and order tactics, including heavily armed police and federal military intervention in protests, a key part of his re-election campaign.
He also once famously took out newspaper ads calling for the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Hispanic teens wrongly accused of raping a woman in New York’s Central Park in 1989, to face the death penalty.