U.S. News

Ex-judges, families of murder victims, call for halt to U.S. federal death penalty

(Reuters) - The relatives of murder victims, along with former judges and corrections officials, asked President Donald Trump and his attorney general on Tuesday to halt federal executions, at least for now, citing concerns about how the penalty is carried out.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in honor of former Attorney General Edwin Meese in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

“We are chilled by the prospect that people will be killed in the name of our federal government despite serious questions about the fairness and reliability of the system that condemned them,” some 65 former state and federal judges wrote to Trump and Attorney General William Barr.

The letter was one of three sent to the White House in advance of the first federal executions scheduled since George W. Bush’s first term as president.

Barr announced in July that the Justice Department would resume executions for the first time in 16 years and scheduled five for inmates convicted of horrific murders and sex crimes. They are set for December and January, all by lethal injection.

Trump has called for increasing the use of the death penalty for drug traffickers and mass shooters,

In their letter, relatives of murder victims called for an end to all executions, saying the punishment did not deter crime and only “exacerbates the trauma of losing a loved one.”

In a separate message, ex-corrections professionals and administrators did not urge banning the practice but said the government was risking legal or logistical errors by rushing forward with the five executions.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment on the letters. White House press officers could not immediately be reached on Tuesday.

Twenty-nine U.S. states still have a death penalty law on the books and 19 prisoners have been executed in seven states so far this year, including eight in Texas and three in Alabama.

But the federal government has not put an inmate to death since former U.S. Army Ranger Louis Jones Jr., a veteran of the Gulf War, died by lethal injection on March 18, 2003, for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of 19-year-old Private Tracie Joy McBride.

Since then, declining support for the death penalty and protracted litigation over the drugs used in lethal injections have effectively kept the federal government from carrying out the ultimate punishment.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Culver City, California; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney