Daniel Lewis Lee was the first man the federal government put to death last month. His victims’ family begged federal authorities at least to delay the execution because they could not attend for fear of catching covid-19. The family’s wishes were ignored. Religious advisers for Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, the two men executed after Mr. Lee, similarly had to consider whether to put themselves or others at risk to be present.
These men were convicted of serious crimes. There have been executions in the United States in cases that were less certain and in circumstances that were more disturbing. What is particularly stomach-turning in this case is the eagerness federal officials showed in carrying out the sentences. Attorney General William P. Barr’s original plan was to execute five people over six weeks starting last December. Litigation only delayed that plan, and the coronavirus did not deter the executioners. No matter what happened, the prisoners were going to spend the rest of their lives in prison. There was no need to rush the inmates onto their gurneys.
The executions provide another reminder of the skewed priorities of the Trump Justice Department. We’ve been reminded, in a summer of police abuse and nationwide protest, that one of the administration’s first acts was to diminish the oversight of state and local police departments. But the zeal to execute burns brightly.
The death penalty is ineffective and immoral. We look forward to a day when the Justice Department again assumes a mission truer to its name.