Capital punishment by the United States federal government

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The United States federal government (in comparison to the separate states) applies the death penalty for certain crimes: treason, espionage, federal murder, large-scale drug trafficking, and attempting to kill a witness, juror, or court officer in certain cases. Military law allows execution of soldiers for several crimes. Executions by the federal government have been rare compared to those by state governments. Twenty-six federal (including military) executions have been carried out since 1950. Three of those (none of them military) have occurred in the modern post-Gregg era. This list only includes those executed under federal jurisdiction. The Federal Bureau of Prisons manages the housing and execution of federal death row prisoners. As of January 19, 2014, fifty-nine people are on the federal death row for men at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana; while the two women on the federal death row are at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.[1]

History[edit]

United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, Indiana, the location of the federal death row for men and the federal execution chamber

The Crimes Act of 1790 created six capital offenses: treason, counterfeiting, three variations of piracy or felonies on the high seas, and aiding the escape of a capital prisoner.[2]

The use of the death penalty in U.S. territories was handled by federal judges and the U.S. Marshal Service.

The capital punishment was halted in 1972 after the Furman v. Georgia decision.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 restored the death penalty under federal law for drug offenses and some types of murder.[3] U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, expanding the federal death penalty in 1994.[4] In response to the Oklahoma City bombing, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed in 1996. Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute became the only federal prison to execute people and one of only two prisons to hold federally condemned people.

Pre-Furman executions by the federal government were normally carried out within the prison system of the state where the crime was committed. Only in cases where the crime was committed in a territory, in the District of Columbia or in a state without the death penalty was it the norm for the court to designate the state in which the death penalty would be carried out, as the federal prison system lacked an execution facility.

Timothy McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001, for his involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing. It was the first federal execution since 1963. Other executions by the United States include Juan Raul Garza on June 19, 2001, and Louis Jones Jr. on March 18, 2003. Sentences of death are now handed down by the jury, and the jury's decision is read and approved or disapproved by the judge. No recommendation for the death penalty from a jury has yet been refused by the judge at sentencing.

As of May 14, 2010, 52 male federal death row prisoners were housed at United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute.[5] As of 2010, the two women on federal death row, Angela Johnson and Lisa M. Montgomery, are held at Federal Medical Center, Carswell.[6][7][8] Two people have been re-sentenced since 1976 to life in prison and one was commuted to life in prison by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Capital offenses[edit]

Federal Medical Center, Carswell, Texas, houses the female death row inmates

These are the offenses punishable by Life Imprisonment or Death under United States Code:[9]

  • Causing death by using a chemical weapon
  • Killing a member of the Congress, the Cabinet or United States Supreme Court
  • Kidnapping a member of the Congress, the Cabinet or Supreme Court resulting in death
  • Conspiracy to kill a member of the Congress, the Cabinet or Supreme Court resulting in death
  • Causing death by using an explosive
  • Causing death by using an illegal firearm
  • Genocide resulting in death
  • Causing death by aircraft hijacking
  • First degree murder
    • Murder perpetrated by poison or lying in wait
    • Murder that is willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated
    • Murder in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate any arson, escape, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery
    • Murder perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children
  • Murder committed by a federal prisoner or an escaped federal prisoner sentenced to 15 years to life or a more severe penalty
  • Assassinating the President or a member of his staff
  • Kidnapping the President or a member of his staff resulting in death
  • Killing persons aiding Federal investigations or State correctional officers
  • Willful wrecking of a train resulting in death
  • Sexual abuse resulting in death
  • Sexual exploitation of children resulting in death
  • Torture resulting in death
  • War crimes resulting in death
  • Large-scale drug trafficking
  • Attempting, authorizing or advising the killing of any officer, juror, or witness in cases involving a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, even if such killing does not occur.
  • Espionage
  • Treason

Method[edit]

The federal prison system never operated its own gas chamber or electric chair for pre-Furman executions. Pre-Furman executions carried out within the federal prison system were by hanging. All federally mandated executions by lethal gas or electrocution were carried out in state prisons.

People who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime [10] or intellectual disabled[11] are legally precluded from being executed.

Recent civilian executions[edit]

Three executions (none of them military) have occurred in the modern post-Gregg era. This list only includes those executed under federal jurisdiction. Since 1963, three people have been executed by the federal government of the United States. All were executed by lethal injection.

Executed person Date Crime State where crime occurred
1 Timothy McVeigh June 11, 2001 Murder of eight federal employees through the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Oklahoma
2 Juan Raul Garza June 19, 2001 Murder of Thomas Albert Rumbo, ordering the murders of Gilberto Matos, Erasmo De La Fuente, Antonio Nieto, Bernabe Sosa, Diana Flores Villareal, Oscar Cantu, and Fernando Escobar Garcia in conjunction with a drug-smuggling ring Texas
3 Louis Jones, Jr. March 18, 2003 Rape and murder of Pvt. Tracie McBride, USA Texas

Earlier civilian executions[edit]

From 1790 to 1950, there were 327 Federal, 271 Territorial and 40 Indian Tribunal executions according to the most complete records.[12] One of those was the execution of James Arcene on June 18, 1885, when he was 23 years old, for his role in a robbery and murder committed when he was 10 years old.

Twenty-six federal (including military) executions have been carried since 1950.[13][14] Between 1950 and 1963, 13 people were executed (not counting those executed under military law):[13][14]

Executed person Method of execution Offense Date of Execution Location Note
James Alderman hanging murder on the high seas August 17, 1929 Broward County Jail, Fort Lauderdale, Florida Killed 2 US coastguardsmen and a Secret Service agent.
Carl Panzram hanging murder September 5, 1930 United States Penitentiary (USP), Leavenworth, Kansas Killed a Federal Penitentiary employee. Linked to 4 other murders-claimed to have killed 22 persons.
George Barrett hanging murder March 24, 1936 Marion County Jail, Indiana The first person to receive the death penalty by hanging under a congressional act that made it a capital offense to kill a federal agent.[15]
Arthur Gooch hanging kidnapping June 19, 1936 Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester, Oklahoma
Earl Gardner hanging murder July 12, 1936 Gila County Jail, Arizona
Anthony Chebatoris hanging attempted bank robbery and murder July 8, 1938 Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), Milan, Michigan
Henry Seadlund electrocution kidnapping July 14, 1938 Cook County Jail, Illinois
Robert Suhay hanging murder August 12, 1938 United States Penitentiary (USP), Leavenworth, Kansas
Glenn Applegate hanging murder August 12, 1938 United States Penitentiary (USP), Leavenworth, Kansas
James Dalhover electrocution bank robbery and murder November 18, 1938 Indiana State Prison, Michigan City, Indiana

Nelson Charles

hanging murder November 10, 1939 Federal Jail, Juneau, Alaska
Herbert Hans Haupt,
Heinrich Heinck,
Edward Kerling,
Herman Neubauer,
Richard Quirin,
Werner Thiel
electrocution espionage and attempted sabotage August 8, 1942 D.C. Jail, Washington, D.C. Tried on July 8, 1942, by a military commission appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for their role in Operation Pastorius during World War II.
Clyde Arwood electrocution murder August 14, 1943 Tennessee State Prison, Nashville, Tennessee
Henry Ruhl gas chamber murder on a government reservation April 27, 1945 Wyoming State Penitentiary, Rawlins, Wyoming
Austin Nelson hanging murder March 1, 1948 Federal Jail, Juneau, Alaska
David Joseph Watson electrocution murder on the high seas September 15, 1948 Florida State Prison, near Raiford, Florida
Samuel Richard Shockley gas chamber murder December 3, 1948 California State Penitentiary, San Quentin, California
Miran Edgar Thompson gas chamber murder December 3, 1948 California State Penitentiary, San Quentin, California
Carlos Romero Ochoa gas chamber murder December 10, 1948 California State Penitentiary, San Quentin, California
Eugene LaMoore hanging murder April 14, 1950 Federal Jail, Juneau, Alaska
Fred Pritchertt electrocution murder February 15, 1952 Washington, D.C.
William Tyler Jr. electrocution murder July 25, 1952 Washington, D.C.
Albert Allen electrocution murder/robbery March 20, 1953 Washington, D.C.
Julius Rosenberg electrocution espionage June 19, 1953 New York State Prison, Sing Sing, Ossining, New York
Ethel Rosenberg electrocution espionage June 19, 1953 New York State Prison, Sing Sing, Ossining, New York
Carl Austin Hall gas chamber kidnapping and murder December 18, 1953 Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri
Bonnie Brown Heady gas chamber murder December 18, 1953 Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri
Gerhard Puff electrocution murder August 12, 1954 New York State Prison, Sing Sing, Ossining, New York
Arthur Ross Brown gas chamber kidnapping February 24, 1956 Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri
Robert Carter electrocution murder April 26, 1957 Washington, D.C. Convicted of Robbery and murder of an off-duty Washington D.C. police officer who attempted to apprehend Carter right after the robbery.
George Krull electrocution kidnapping August 21, 1957 Georgia State Prison, Reidsville, Georgia
Michael Krull electrocution rape August 21, 1957 Georgia State Prison, Reidsville, Georgia
Victor Feguer hanging kidnapping March 15, 1963 Iowa State Penitentiary, Fort Madison, Iowa

Presidential assassins[edit]

Execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt on July 7, 1865 at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.
Executed person Date of execution Method President Assassinated Under President
George Atzerodt July 7, 1865 hanging Abraham Lincoln Andrew Johnson
David Herold July 7, 1865 hanging Abraham Lincoln Andrew Johnson
Lewis Powell July 7, 1865 hanging Abraham Lincoln Andrew Johnson
Mary Surratt July 7, 1865 hanging Abraham Lincoln Andrew Johnson
Charles J. Guiteau June 30, 1882 hanging James Garfield Chester A. Arthur

The assassinations of Lincoln and Garfield were prosecuted by the federal government because they took place in the District of Columbia. The assassin of William McKinley, Leon Czolgosz, was tried and executed for murder by New York state authorities. The accused assassin of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, would presumably have been tried for murder by Texas state authorities had he not been killed two days later by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Municipal Building (then Dallas Police Department headquarters) while being transferred to the county jail. (Ruby himself was initially tried and convicted of murder in a Texas state court, but that was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and he died before he could be retried.) Only after Kennedy's death was it made a federal crime to murder the President of the United States.

Military executions[edit]

The United States military has executed 135 people since 1916. The most recent person to be executed by the military is U.S. Army Private John A. Bennett was executed on April 13, 1961 for rape and attempted murder. Since the end of the Civil War in 1865, only one person has been executed for a purely military offense: Private Eddie Slovik, who was executed on January 31, 1945 after being convicted of desertion.

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ Federal Death Row Prisoners, Death Penalty Information Center, January 19, 2014
  2. ^ Crimes Act of 1790, ch. 9, §§ 1, 3, 8–10, 14, 23, 1 Stat. 112, 112–15, 117.
  3. ^ (Pub.L. 100–690, 102 Stat. 4181, enacted November 18, 1988, H.R. 5210)
  4. ^ H.R. 3355, Pub.L. 103–322
  5. ^ "The Bureau Celebrates 80th Anniversary." Federal Bureau of Prisons. May 14, 2010. Retrieved on October 3, 2010.
  6. ^ "DAVID PAUL HAMMER, PETITIONER v. JOHN D. ASHCROFT, ET AL.." U.S. Department of Justice. 14 (18/30). Retrieved on December 15, 2010. "If a media-access policy were to cover the two female death-sentenced inmates in the federal system, it would have to be issued by the warden at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, where they are housed."
  7. ^ "Lisa M Montgomery." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on October 3, 2010.
  8. ^ "Angela Johnson." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
  9. ^ Title 18 Chapter 228, U.S. Code
  10. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  11. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  12. ^ 340 Federal, 271 Territorial and 40 Indian Tribunal Executions 1790 to 1963. Retrieved on 20 October 2008.
  13. ^ a b Federal Executions 1927–2003. Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved on 16 October 2008.
  14. ^ a b The Federal Death Penalty. Death Row Speaks. Retrieved on 20 October 2008.
  15. ^ Barrett's Execution. George W. Barrett (-1936). Retrieved on 12 November 2008.

Further reading[edit]

Texts of relevant laws