A group of elected Democrats outraged by a series of executions carried out by the administration of Donald Trump asks the new American president, Joe Biden, to commute “immediately” the sentences of federal prisoners sentenced to death and to ensure them a procedure ” fair ”to establish an appropriate prison sentence.
Posted on January 26, 2021 at 6:33 am
“We appreciate your declared opposition to the death penalty and we ask you to act quickly and decisively on this subject,” plead two African-American elected officials, Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush, in a letter sent Friday to the chief of State with the support of about thirty members of Congress.
The authors of the missive note that the Americans have witnessed a “hateful” series of 13 federal executions which took place in part during the transition period following the presidential election, contrary to tradition, while the country is grappling with an unprecedented pandemic complicating any legal defense.
A total of 13 people were executed in seven months, or “more than [par] any other administration for a century and a half, ”they note.
The elected officials are outraged in particular at the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a 52-year-old woman who on January 12 became the first federal prisoner executed in 70 years, a week before Joe Biden came to power.
“Our system has not succeeded in protecting her, but we cannot allow the same scenario to repeat for many other people like her who are facing the same fate”, note the authors, who also ask the new president to support a bill aimed ultimately at banning the death penalty.
The federal government can demand the death penalty for a series of the most serious crimes. The majority of executions carried out annually in the country, however, are the responsibility of the states themselves and have fallen sharply for 20 years.
The Department of Justice, under the leadership of William Barr, announced last summer that it was necessary to relaunch federal executions, after decades of moratorium, out of consideration for the “families of the victims”.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are still around 50 federal inmates on death row.
Appeals that have given nothing
Several human rights groups have tried to block executions carried out in the last months of the Trump administration, to no avail.
Recourse to the courts has come up against the Supreme Court in particular, which has given its approval to the holding of several controversial executions, including that of Mr.me Montgomery.
In a noticeable dissent, Judge Sonia Sotomayor criticized the highest American court for having “constantly rejected” requests for the review of prisoners throughout this “expeditious series of executions”, in some cases cutting off “in a few days or even in a few hours ”, often without giving any justification. “Justice is not that,” she said.
Sandra Babcock, professor of law at Cornell University, who participated in the defense of Lisa Montgomery, notes that President Trump has never answered the call for clemency addressed to him in this case.
The detainee, who killed a pregnant woman and took her baby alive after extracting it from her womb, had been sexually assaulted for many years as a child and suffered from serious psychiatric problems which should normally have avoided the death penalty. .
Mme Babcock believes that the execution of Lisa Montgomery made a lasting impression and will advance the cause of opponents of the death penalty.
She is optimistic that Joe Biden will support an end to federal executions, as he promised to do in the election campaign, but she is not sure if he will want to go further in seeking to convince the states that still apply him to follow suit.
“I expect him to support the movement for the abolition of capital punishment. As to whether he will be the leader, that remains to be seen, ”says the professor.
A hundred prosecutors and lawyers also on Monday called on President Biden by letter to take action to abolish the death penalty, noting that the federal executions in recent months represented “an attack on human dignity” and an “affront. to American values ”.