WASHINGTON D.C. - The Justice Department is changing protocols to allow lethal gas, electrocution and firing squad for capital punishment, as five federal prisoners are expected to be executed before Inauguration Day.
The new rule was published in the Federal Register on Friday. It stipulates that 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 or which has been designated by a court" in accordance with laws that govern death sentences.
"If applicable law provides that the prisoner may choose among multiple manners of execution, the Director or his designee shall notify the prisoner of that option," the rule states.
The rules will go into effect 30 days from Friday.
Currently, only lethal injection is used for federal executions, but other states give death row inmates the option of other forms of execution.
In Florida, for example, an inmate can specifically ask to be put to death by electrocution and in Washington state, inmates can ask to be put to death by hanging. In Utah, prisoners sentenced before May 2004 can choose a firing squad. The state law there also authorizes the use of a firing squad if lethal injection drugs aren’t available.
Many states have had issues procuring suitable drugs for lethal injections.
After a botched state execution in Oklahoma in 2014, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to review capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.
The Trump administration resumed federal executions in July 2019 after a 17-year ban. Lisa Montgomery, 52, is one of the federal inmates scheduled for execution and the only woman on federal death row. Her execution is scheduled for Dec. 8.
She was convicted in connection with the 2004 killing of a pregnant woman.
Brandon Bernard, convicted of the 1999 murders of two youth ministers, is scheduled to die Dec. 10. In a court filing last week, the Justice Department said it was scheduling the executions of Alfred Bourgeois for Dec. 11, and Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs for Jan. 14 and 15.
Prosecutors said Bourgeois tortured, sexually molested and then beat his 2 1/2-year-old daughter to death.
Johnson was one of three crack cocaine dealers convicted in a string of murders. Prosecutors said he killed seven people in an attempt to expand the territory of a Richmond, Va., gang and silence informants. His co-defendants, members of the same drug gang, are also on death row.
Four of the five inmates scheduled to die before the end of President's Trump term will be executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., by lethal injection.
The method of death for Higgs, convicted of kidnapping and murdering three women, was not disclosed. Federal inmate Orlando Hall, convicted of killing a 16-year-old girl, was executed last week.
President-elect Joe Biden has voiced his opposition to the death penalty and will work to end the practice, a spokesman has said. The opposition stems in part because of wrongfully convicted inmates who have been sentenced to death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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