President Donald Trump’s administration has executed more people in five months than the federal government has in the past 50 years.
Beginning in July 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has put eight people to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Prior to the carrying out of these sentences, there had been no federal executions for 17 years. In fact, prior to July, there were only three people executed by the federal government since 1970.
Now, in what is being largely referred to as a flurry of “lame duck executions,” the Trump administration has condemned five people to death before President-Elect Joe Biden takes over the White House on Inauguration Day. Four out of the five prisoners slated to be executed are Black men. According to Democracy Now!, Lisa Montgomery, a white woman who faced a lifetime of sexual abuse and mental illness, is the fifth prisoner and would be the first woman executed in nearly 70 years.
This record number of executions also comes on the cusp of Trump pardoning his former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. The New York Times reported that Trump has also allegedly discussed offering pre-emptive pardons to his children, Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; as well as his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.
Critics of the President have argued a blatant double standard exists, with him granting clemency to his own family and supporters while rushing the executions of others — many of whom underwent questionable trials or had cases that warranted revisiting.
The total list of those sentenced to die in the next month and a half include:
Brandon Bernard, a Black man who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 10
Bernard was 18 when he was allegedly an accomplice in the murder of a white couple. During his trial, his attorneys didn’t make opening statements and no witnesses were called during the penalty stage, Democracy Now! reports. Eleven of the 12 jurors were white, and five are now saying they don’t think Bernard should be executed. Angela Moore, one of the prosecutors who helped secure Bernard’s death sentence, spoke out in an op-ed in the Indianapolis Star, saying she had since changed her mind and now believes executing Bernard would be “a stain on this nation’s honor.”
Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old Black man who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 11
Bourgeois, a former long-haul trucker from Louisiana was found guilty for murdering and sexually abusing his two-year-old daughter in 2002. According to a report by KIII-TV (an ABC-affiliate station based in Corpus Christi, Texas), the court records also showed that he abused her physically. The crime occurred on a naval base, so Bourgeois was tried in federal court in 2004. He maintained his innocence and refused a plea deal. The jury took less than two hours to deliberate and recommended the death sentence. Bourgeois’s attorneys argue that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible to be executed because he cannot understand why he is being executed.
Lisa Montgomery, a 52-year-old white woman who is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 12
Montgomery was a victim of incest, gang rape, child sex trafficking and other forms of violence throughout her life. Montgomery was found guilty of murdering a 23-year-old pregnant woman and carving the fetus that was eight months into gestation out of her. Montgomery took the fetus home and pretended it was her own, but it was later safely recovered. Montgomery’s stepbrother, who her mother pressured her to marry, had coerced her into a sterilization procedure before the incident, DemocracyNow! reports. Advocates for Montgomery — including her sister, who was able to escape the abuse as a child — say she is severely mentally ill and that the heinous crime was a result of Montgomery’s dissociation and psychosis.
Cory Johnson, a 45-year-old Black man who is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 14
Johnson was a crack cocaine dealer who was found guilty of taking part in at least 10 murders within 45 days in 1992, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Johnson’s attorneys maintain that his IQ is 69, making him intellectually disabled and below the standard the Supreme Court used to determine if an execution would be cruel and unusual punishment. His lawyers also say he suffered abuse as a child.
Dustin Higgs, a 48-year-old Black man who is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 15
Higgs was sentenced to the federal death penalty for murdering three women in Washington D.C. in 1996, however he was not the person who shot the women and is pleading innocence. The prosecution says Higgs drove the women to a secluded area and ordered another man, Willis Haynes, to shoot the women. Haynes, who pulled the trigger, was sentenced to life in prison. Higgs’s lawyers maintain that it would be “arbitrary and inequitable” to impose the more severe penalty on Higgs. On his website, Higgs says the other defendants in the case conspired against him to pin the murder on him.
All of these people have disadvantages in common. Whether victims of abuse, sufferers of severe mental illness or intellectual disabilities or marginalized because of their gender or race, all are arguing their trials were unfair and are pushing for clemency. Additionally, Black people are disproportionately affected, making up 44.4% of the people on federal death row according to DeathPenaltyInfo.org.
“It just shows when you give absolute power over life and death to government officials, they can really do what they want,” Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist said on Democracy Now!
In other death penalty-related moves, the DOJ is also rushing to change rules around the manners in which people can be executed, enraging many human rights and anti-death penalty activists.
In the wording of the ruling, “Federal executions are to be carried out by lethal injection or by any other manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence was imposed.” This loophole means that hanging, poison gas, firing squads and electrocution are admissible in some states and could be approved for federal execution if the drugs used for lethal injections become unavailable.
Everyone scheduled to be executed federally before inauguration will die by lethal injection, and this loosening of restrictions may never be implemented, ProPublica reported. However, President-Elect Joe Biden has indicated he won’t allow any federal executions and will push to eliminate capital punishment for federal crimes.
Public support of the death penalty has been steadily declining in recent years. In Gallup’s 2019 poll, 60% of respondents favored a life sentence over the death penalty as the penalty for murder.
Bernard, Bourgeois, Montgomery, Johnson and Higgs all have petitions out on their behalf to urge the President to grant them stays.
UPDATE: On Dec. 10 at 9:27 p.m. Bernard was executed at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, Indiana after the Supreme Court ruled not to grant him a stay. As of the morning of Dec. 11,
UPDATE: On Dec. 11, Alfred Bourgeois was executed at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. In his final statement, he maintained his innocence. “I ask God to forgive all those who plotted and schemed against me, and planted false evidence,” he said. “I did not commit this crime.” Montgomery, Johnson and Higgs’s executions are still set to take place in January.