Trump set to oversee most federal civilian executions by a US president in over a century

President broke 130-year precedent of pausing executions during the presidential transition period 

Louise Hall
Friday 11 December 2020 21:07
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President Donald Trump is set to oversee the most federal executions by a US president in more than a century after following through on the first of five sentences planned before Inauguration Day.

Mr Trump broke a 130-year precedent of pausing executions during the presidential transition period when the US government executed Brandon Bernard on Thursday night.

The execution was the first of five planned before Joe Biden takes office, with the administration ramping up the pace of the federal sentences before the end of the year.

The planned deaths will bring the total number of executions during Mr Trump’s presidency to 13 since the federal government began executions again this summer after a 17-year hiatus.

In this case, Mr Trump will have carried out the most federal civilian executions in 100 years, surpassing Franklin D Roosevelt’s total of 10 federal executions during his term as president.

Before this, only one federal execution was known to have been carried out in the 1920’s, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

Roosevelt oversaw six executions for espionage on top of 10 federal executions, but these were convicted by a military court.

The execution of Bernard also makes Mr Trump the first lame duck to execute federal inmates during a presidential transition since Cleveland’s presidency.

Shivan Sarin, Deputy Director of Reprieve US, a legal action non-profit organisation told The Independent that in "rushing through these executions, the federal government is highlighting everything that is wrong with the death penalty.

"In seeking to execute child abuse victims, the intellectually disabled, and teenagers who made one awful mistake decades ago, the DoJ is inadvertently showing why so many states, from Ohio to California, are turning away from capital punishment."

The last presidency during which the number of civilians executed federally was in the double digits in a year, was that of Grover Cleveland in 1896 when 14 people were executed, according to Robert Durham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The director of the non-partisan group said the executions mark an unprecedented break from the tradition of deferring to the president-elect on the highly contentious policy.

"It's hard to understand why anybody at this stage of a presidency feels compelled to kill this many people ... especially when the American public voted for someone else to replace you and that person has said he opposes the death penalty," Mr Durham said.  

"This is a complete historical aberration."

Bernard, who was 18 when he took part in a 1999 double murder in Texas, was killed by lethal injection at the Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana despite continued legal please and calls for clemency.

“Tonight, those of us who loved Brandon Bernard - and we are many - are full of righteous anger and deep sadness at the actions of the federal government in taking his life,” said his lawyer Robert C Owen.

“Brandon’s life mattered. To us, his legal team, to his two beautiful and talented daughters, to his mother, and sister, and to the countless people around the country who came to know him and his story in recent weeks.

“Brandon made one terrible mistake at age 18. But he did not kill anyone, and he never stopped feeling shame and profound remorse for his actions in the crime that took the lives of Todd and Stacie Bagley.”

Alfred Bourgeois, 56, the next of four planned inmates to be executed before Inauguration Day, is set to die in the federal death chamber in Indiana on Friday.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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