One of the five inmates, Daniel Lewis Lee, was convicted in 1999 by a federal court jury on "numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering." Lee was a member of a white supremacist group, robbing and killing a family of three in gruesome fashion, the DOJ said.
Lawyers for Lee said Thursday that the crime for which he was sentenced to death was actually orchestrated by a different member of a white supremacist group, who only received a life sentence; they argued that Lee did not conduct the murder, and that evidence used against him during the trial was later overturned by DNA testing.
Morris Moon, Lee's attorney, stated that "the trial judge, the lead prosecutor, and members of the victims' family all oppose executing him and believe a life sentence is appropriate," but the federal government ordered prosecutors to proceed with a death sentence. Furthermore, Lee suffered "relentless" abuse and trauma as a youth, he said.
Another of the five inmates, Wesley Purkey, raped and murdered a 16 year-old girl and bludgeoned to death an 80 year-old woman, the DOJ said. Purkey's lawyer said on Thursday that he suffered serious abuse and trauma at a young age, and now "suffers from a multitude of mental and physical disabilities, including dementia" at age 67.
According to the DOJ, inmate Lezmond Mitchell murdered a 63 year-old woman and forced her nine year-old granddaughter to sit beside her corpse on a 30 to 40-mile drive before murdering her as well. Mitchell's attorney said that he is a member of the Navajo nation, which opposes the death penalty in its own jurisdiction, and which has opposed the sentence.
Mitchell is "the only Native American on federal death row," his counsel said. He was eligible for the death penalty because carjacking resulting in death is a federal crime.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Federal administration of the federal death penalty is geographically-concentrated in the South, with more than half of federal death sentences coming from just three states-Virginia, Texas, and Missouri. Additionally, the three federal circuit courts comprising that region-the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth-are responsible for 42 of the 61 current federal death sentences.
More than half of current federal death row inmates are African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American, the DPIC said.
The Catholic Mobilizing Network last Thursday called the DOJ decision "unconscionable," arguing that the death penalty system in the U.S. "is tragically flawed."
"The actions of the Federal government are meant to represent the values of the American people - values of equality, fairness, and for Catholics, above all, a belief in the sanctity of human life," stated Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of CMN.
"The resumption of executions at the federal level flies in the face of these values, and promotes a culture of death where we so desperately need a culture of life," she said.
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