Federal government to resume capital punishment, schedule executions

For the first time in 16 years, the federal government will resume executing inmates on death row. 

Attorney General William Barr announced five convicted federal inmates will be put to death, starting as early as December.

It's been since 2003 that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has executed a death row inmate, but in making this announcement, Barr says the decision is about justice for the victims.

Jeff Cramer, managing director at Berkeley Research Group, was a former federal prosecutor who successfully tried a death penalty case, in 2006. He says at the federal level, the chance of being wrongly-convicted on death row is much lower.

"A lot of states, certainly Illinois, won't even pursue a death penalty case, so the federal system now has gone one step more: prosecuting them and then actually carrying through on the process itself," Cramer said.

Five convicted inmates now officially scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.  In announcing the decision to resume executions, Barr said, "The Justice Department upholds the rule of law and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

Cramer said he feels confident the system will be "up and running" within a year from now.

"While nothing is guaranteed, I think it can be confidently said that someone in the federal system, someone whose been prosecuted in the federal system in a death penalty case, has been looked at numerous times to ensure the person is indeed guilty," Cramer said.

But unlike the cocktail of three drugs previously used, Barr says the Bureau of Prisons will now be using a single drug called "Pentobarbital."

"That drug is more plentifully available, so that whole problem of securing the actual drugs is no longer a problem," Cramer said.

Since 1988 only three federal inmates have been executed in the United States.

The first execution is scheduled to happen at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., on December 9.