The Department of Justice (DOJ) is amending its execution protocols to allow death sentences to be carried out by other methods than just lethal injection—including by electrocution, firing squad, and poison gas.
The new rule, published Friday in the Federal Register and due to become effective on Dec. 24, allows authorities to carry out executions by lethal injection or use “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed,” with some states permitting methods like inhaling nitrogen gas or death by firing squad.
Further, in instances where state law does not provide for implementation of a death sentence, such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont, the new rule directs the court of a different state that does allow capital punishment to carry out the execution.
The rule also expands the method of conducting federal executions, now carried out by lethal injection at the Federal Bureau of Prisons facility at the Terre Haute correction complex in Indiana, to include other means of capital punishment.
“If cases arise in which the department is required to execute a federal inmate according to the law of a state that uses a method other than lethal injection, the most expedient means of carrying out the execution may be to arrange for state assistance,” the rule indicates.
It comes as the Justice Department has scheduled five executions between now and Inauguration Day, which falls on Jan. 20, 2021, including of three federal death-row inmates.
Attorney General William Barr on Nov. 20 directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of three federal inmates convicted for what the Department of Justice described as “staggeringly brutal murders.” All three inmates—Alfred Bourgeois, Cory Johnson, and Dustin John Higgs—were sentenced years ago for a string of deadly crimes, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a release.
In 2002, Bourgeois took his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter along on a trucking route, where he abused, tortured, and ultimately beat her to death. He’s scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 11 at the Terre Haute complex.
Johnson murdered seven people in connection with his drug-trafficking activities. He was originally scheduled for execution in 2006, but a preliminary injunction prevented authorities from proceeding with carrying out the sentence until this September. Johnson is set to be executed by lethal injection on Jan. 14, 2021.
Higgs, who kidnapped and killed three women in 1996, is scheduled to be put to death on Jan. 15, 2021.
Barr restarted federal executions this year after a 17-year hiatus, and this year the Justice Department has put to death more people than during the previous half-century.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed support for capital punishment, arguing that executions serve as an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.