U.S. puts convicted killer to death in eighth federal execution under Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government put convicted rapist and murderer Orlando Hall to death by lethal injection on Thursday, the eighth execution under the Trump administration since capital punishment was reinstated at the federal level over the summer.

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets on the Federal Corrections Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, U.S. May 22, 2019, where death row inmate Orlando Hall is being held. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo

Hall, 49, was pronounced dead at 11:47 p.m. EST after officials at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons administered him a fatal dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital at the bureau’s execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, the agency said.

Hall was the second African-American man to be executed by lethal injection on federal death row in recent months.

He was convicted by an all-white jury for his role in the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of the 16-year-old sister of two Texas drug dealers whom Hall suspected had stolen money from him.

He and three other men kidnapped Lisa Rene from her apartment in Texas and drove her back to a motel room in Arkansas where they tied her up, raped her and beat her with a shovel before she was buried alive.

A statement from the victim’s sister, Pearl Rene, issued after the execution expressing the family’s relief at reaching “the end of a very long and painful chapter in our lives.”

“The execution of Orlando Hall will never stop the suffering we continue to endure,” she wrote. “Please pray for our family as well as his.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr ended a 17-year hiatus in federal executions in July, after announcing last year that the Bureau of Prisons was switching to a new single-drug method for lethal injections, from a three-drug combination it last used in 2003.

Hall was put to death shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court denied an 11th-hour petition for a stay, over-ruling a lower-court order that had briefly blocked the execution on grounds that protocols for administering sodium pentobarbital without a prescription violated the law.

Hall’s lawyers also sought to stay the execution in two other cases, also rejected by the high court.

In one, they argued his attorneys needed more time to prepare a clemency petition, but were hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a third case, they claimed that racial discrimination played a role in securing an all-white jury to decide his fate.

According to a statistical analysis cited in that litigation, the federal death penalty in Texas between 1988 and 2010 was “disproportionately meted-out based on race.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed an amicus brief on Hall’s behalf, argued there was evidence prosecutors in his case had improperly stricken Black individuals from the jury pool based on racial motivations.

Hall’s execution came as the United States has faced a reckoning over racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man taken into custody and handcuffed, as he lay gasping for breath, his neck pinned to the ground under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Of the 56 people on federal death row, 26 of them, or 46%, are Black, and 22, or 39%, are white. Black people comprise only 13% of the U.S. population.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additionl reporting by Shubham Kalia and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast.