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The U.S. Justice Department is set to resume executions for the first time since 2003, beginning with three people being put to death by lethal injection next week at a prison in Indiana, according to the Associated Press.
Despite concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons say they are able to conduct the executions safely and have been training for several months on how to take precautions.
Family members of inmates and victims will be allowed to attend, but will be required to wear protective face coverings. Officials at the prison will conduct temperature checks and make personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, gowns and face shields, available for witnesses. COVID-19 testing will not be provided.
However, the procedures do not come without criticism in the midst of the pandemic.
“Why would anybody who is concerned about public health and safety want to bring in people from all over the country for three separate executions in the span of five days to a virus hot spot?” Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the AP. “The original execution plan last year appeared to be political. And the current plan eliminates any doubt about that.”
But Attorney General William Barr said that politics do not play a role in the decision to resume executions.
“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” Barr said in a statement in June, according to the AP.
While the racial disparity of people on death row in America is still disproportionately Black, the three men scheduled to die at the federal correctional institution at Terre Haute, Indiana are all white.
They include: Danny Lee, convicted in Arkansas of killing a family of three; Wesley Ira Purkey, a Kansas man who was convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl and killing an 80-year-old woman; and Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people in Iowa.
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