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Judge Halts Federal Executions

4 men were set to be executed in Indiana in December and January
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 21, 2019 6:22 AM CST
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Stock photo.   (Getty Images/txking)

(Newser) – The cases of four men set to be put to death in Indiana over the next couple of months have spurred a nationwide reprieve. On Wednesday, District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan halted those executions, effectively stopping all federal executions across the US, Politico reports. A fifth execution in Indiana set for December had already been blocked by an appeals court. Attorney General Bill Barr had scheduled the executions of these five death-row inmates at the federal prison in Terre Haute back in July, when the federal government decided to resume capital punishment after an almost 20-year moratorium. The judge's ruling revolves around Barr's mandate that federal executions use just a single drug—pentobarbital—during lethal injections, instead of a three-drug combo that had been used.

NBC News notes that court rulings against that three-drug method basically led to a stoppage of federal executions in 2003. In her decision, Chutkan cited a 1994 federal statute that says federal executions must happen "in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed"; she added the men would be "irreparably harmed" if they weren't allowed to proceed with their legal challenges to the new policy. The BBC details the differences between federal and state executions and notes that the death penalty was brought back on the federal level in 1988. Per the Death Penalty Information Center, federal executions are rare: Only three have taken place in modern times, the last being in 2003. Most inmates on federal death row are in the Terre Haute facility. (Read more execution stories.)

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