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US government death penalty move draws sharp criticism

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The US federal government’s move to resume executions after a 16-year hiatus has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups and leading Democrats.

Several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination called for the death penalty to be abolished.

On Thursday Attorney General William Barr said five inmates would be executed.

They had been convicted of murders or rapes of children or the elderly, he said.

The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.

“Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals,” Mr. Barr said in a statement.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

Mr. Barr’s announcement lifts what was an informal moratorium on the federal death penalty – as opposed to state-directed executions – since the 2003 execution of Louis Jones Jr, a 53-year-old a Gulf War veteran who murdered 19-year-old soldier Tracie Joy McBride.

Robert Dunham from the Death Penalty Information Center said the decision did not come as a surprise.

“President Trump has been a staunch supporter of capital punishment and has proposed several extreme uses of it, including for selling drugs and for all murders involving state and local police officers,” he said.

“So it was not a surprise that he would seek to have executions carried out. I think the biggest surprise is that it took as long as it did.”

Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the fact that the executions were scheduled so close together raised “serious questions about the fairness for each of those cases”.

“We need time to consider and review cases and there’s just absolutely no basis for lumping cases together in this way and rushing forward,” said Cassy Stubbs from the group.

Democrat Kamala Harris described the death penalty as “immoral and deeply flawed”, while Bernie Sanders said he would abolish it if elected.

Another candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Pete Buttigieg, said “race and geography” were factors in determining who was sentenced to death.

Source: BBC News

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