Editorial: The new life in the death penalty | TribLIVE.com

Editorial: The new life in the death penalty


The death penalty is alive and well in the federal government.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr resuscitated the punishment that has languished since 2014 when the Obama administration began a review.

That review is complete and executions are being scheduled. The first five death row inmates who will be executed have been announced. Three are set to die in December.

So is this just another reversal of an Obama policy?

Not quite. It goes back further. The federal government hasn’t executed anyone in 16 years, according to the Bureau of Prisons. That’s almost as long as Pennsylvania has gone without an execution.

Kidnapper Louis Jones received lethal injection in 2003 at USP Terre Haute, the same prison where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and murderer Juan Raul Garza met their ends in 2001.

Then this is a return to prior practice?

Not so much. Before McVeigh, the U.S. government hadn’t executed anyone since 1963. While states have wielded the needle, the electric chair and the gas chamber more liberally, the federal government has executed only 37 people since 1927. Texas executed 40 in 2000 alone.

The change comes from a Trump administration that has turned in different directions on crime during his first campaign and since taking office.

On the one hand, President Trump has advocated hard stances against criminals while also having son-in-law Jared Kushner work successfully on popular, bipartisan prison reform. In 2018, the president suggested drug dealers should get the death penalty.

Other countries don’t play games. … But the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty,” he said.

The announced list includes no Pennsylvania inmates, although Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage is on federal death row, which has to be a more uncertain place to live than it was two days ago.

But Pittsburgh could be an early focus of a new spotlight on the federal death penalty because of Robert Bowers, who is facing 63 federal charges — 22 of them death penalty crimes — for the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October. Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty, but until Barr’s announcement, it was moot.

Now it’s not. Now a decision should be made, because the death penalty is no longer a distant threat. It’s a pending promise.

Categories: Opinion | Editorials
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.