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January 15, 2021
Only five states carried out a total of seven executions across the United States last year. That is the fewest state executions in nearly 40 years. However, that is not the full story when it comes to the death penalty in America.
In the second half of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic and a reelection campaign, the Trump Administration decided to get back into the act of executing federal prisoners. After going 17 years without carrying out an execution the federal government carried out 10 executions in less than six months.
By the end of 2020, the federal government had conducted more executions in five months than any other presidency since the turn of the 20th century, and scheduled more executions during a presidential transition period than any other administration in the history of the United States - knowing President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on abolishing the federal death penalty.
Whether it was a ploy to bolster his tough guy bona fides or a lowbrow pitch to his “law and order” constituency, President Donald Trump’s bloodlust saw no boundary.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, those executed by the federal government included the first Native American ever executed by the federal government for the murder of a member of his own tribe on tribal lands.
This fall saw the first federal execution in 68 years of an offender who was a teenager at the time the crime was committed.
The federal executions of 2020 included the first federal execution in 57 years for a crime committed in a state that had abolished the death penalty, as well as executions carried out against the wishes of the victims’ families and the first lame-duck executions in more than a century.
The executions carried out in the midst of a pandemic contributed to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. The outbreak infected at least nine members of federal execution teams, several lawyers and at least one religious advisor.
As the president faces an unprecedented second impeachment trial - his machinery of death keeps chugging along. This week, after the president incited his “law and order” supporters to storm the Capitol resulting in the death of five people, including a Capitol Hill police officer, Lisa Montgomery was executed. She was the first woman executed in the federal system in nearly seven decades.
Montgomery committed a very heinous crime. In 2004, she cut an unborn fetus from the womb of her mother. Montgomery had faked a pregnancy. She drove from her home in Kansas to the victim’s home in Missouri. After strangling Bobbi Stinnett, whom she knew from dog breeding, Montgomery cut open her abdomen and kidnapped her fetus. Fetal abduction is rare, but more than 25 cases of violent fetal abductions have occurred in the last two decades.
According to NBC News, Montgomery’s lawyers did not argue that she didn’t deserve to be punished, but rather that the jury never fully learned of her severe mental illnesses as diagnosed by doctors.
Corey Johnson was executed two days after Montgomery. Johnson had an IQ of 69 and had contracted COVID-19.
With only days left in his “reign,” Trump has one more execution planned. A U.S. Circuit Court recently cleared the way for the execution to move forward. The court overturned a stay from a lower court delaying the execution until March to allow Dustin Higgs to recover from COVID-19.
Higgs could dodge the executioner’s needle but-for the wishes of a disgraced president who on his last days in office would rather inflict death than impart mercy.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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