Though the Biden-Harris administration has now taken on the task of running the American government, our country will not soon recover from the lasting effects of the Trump administration. As Trump’s final days in office inched by, they were marked by one gruesome thing in particular: the Trump administration’s killing spree.
This past July, the federal government resumed executions, ending a seventeen-year moratorium on the federal death penalty. Between July and September, seven death row inmates were executed by lethal injection, already setting a record for the most inmates executed by a president in a single year.
The death penalty is ineffective at deterring crime. Indeed, states without the death penalty see no increase in murder rates. The death penalty is also unfairly levied against people of color, particularly Black people. Black Americans make up just 13% of the United States population, but they consist of 42% of death row prisoners. This is not because Black Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes. Studies show that Black Americans have the same likelihood of committing crimes as their white counterparts. However, Black Americans tend to be sentenced more harshly due to racism in our criminal justice systems.
Americans’ support of the death penalty is lower than it has been in nearly five decades. In fact, a majority of Americans (60%) favor life imprisonment to the death penalty as a punishment for murder. Trump’s vicious series of executions seems to have been fueled only by political motivation and a twisted idea of revenge.
The “lame-duck” period is the transitional time between administrations, usually serving as a period for the administrations to come together to ease the transfer of power. The Trump administration is the first administration in over 130 years to carry out federal executions during the lame-duck period. To make matters worse, they introduced a new rule allowing the federal government the execution options of electrocution, hanging, gassing, or shooting.
Not only is this out of line with previous administrations, but the Trump administration continued on with this while the vast majority of state governments halted executions due to COVID-19. Executions involve large teams of people, including 40 Bureau of Prison staff members and 200 prison staff. According to data obtained by the ACLU in September, executions have likely resulted in a spike in COVID-19 cases. Nearly 200 people at Terra Haute (the penitentiary that houses federal death row inmates) have contracted the virus, and at least three people have died as a result.
Human lives are paying the price for Trump’s wounded pride. Government should never have the power to determine which lives are of value and which are not. All human life has inherent value and dignity.
Here is a list of all the human beings killed by the Trump administration:
Daniel Lewis Lee
Daniel Lewis Lee was executed on July 14th, 2020, after a divided supreme court (5-4) overturned a judge’s order that had halted his execution. Lee’s final words were “I didn't do it. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I'm not a murderer. You're killing an innocent man.”
Wesley Ira Purkey
Wesley Ira Purkey was executed on July 16th, 2020. Purkey was 68 years old and suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s. His last words were “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer’s family. I am deeply sorry. I deeply regret the pain I caused to my daughter, who I love so very much. This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”
Dustin Lee Honken
Dustin Lee Honken was killed on July 17th, 2020. For his last words, he recited “Heaven-Heaven,” a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. “I have desired to go, where springs not fail, to fields where flies no sharp and sided hail, and a few lilies blow. And I have asked to be, where no storms come, where the green swell is in the havens dumb, and out of the swing of the sea.”
Lezmond Charles Mitchell
Lezmond Charles Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, was executed on August 26th, 2020. The Navajo Nation repeatedly objected to the federal government taking over the case. When asked if he had any last words, Mitchell simply said “No, I’m good.”
Keith Dwayne Nelson
Keith Dwayne Nelson was executed on August 28th, 2020. He did not offer up any last words.
William Emmett LeCroy
William Emmet LeCroy was killed on September 22nd, 2020. His last words were “Sister Battista [his spiritual advisor] is about to receive in the postal service my last statement.” Sister Battista shared some of the letter, which quoted philosophers and authors throughout. “As Arnaud Desjardins put it, the law commands us to do what we would do naturally if we only had love. The way consist of finding that love, which becomes the law. That is our goal, my goal, my final destination.”
Christopher Andre Vialva
Christopher Andre Vialva was executed on September 24th, 2020. With his last words, he offered apologies and prayers for his victims. “I have been incarcerated for over 20 years, but those years were not idle time. I have been on a journey of growth and repentance. On that journey, I have often thought of the Bagleys. I know they were special people and I deeply regret my actions. I took your loved ones away from you. Their words are what started me on a path to faith. At the end of the path I found salvation, and the Messiah has now guided my life for over a decade. I have the Bagleys to thank for that. The Bagleys are heroes, and we should rejoice in their heroism. They lived their faith and their faith was an inspiration. To the family of the Bagleys: I apologize for taking two shining lights away from you. I know you love them dearly, and you may feel that what I did was unforgivable. I wouldn’t dare ask for forgiveness. That is too big of a request. However, I am sorry nonetheless, and if ending my life brings you peace then I am glad to end it. I pray the Father blesses your family with His Shalom.”
Orlando Cordia Hall
Orlando Cordia Hall was killed on November 19th, 2020. Hall, a Black man, was convicted on the recommendation of an all-white jury, and his was the first lame-duck federal execution in over a century. His last words were “Take care of yourselves. Tell my kids I love them.”
Brandon Bernard was killed on December 10th, 2020. His last words were “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t. I’m sorry. That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
Alfred Bourgeois was executed on December 11th, 2020. Bourgeois was intellectually disabled, with an IQ purportedly around 70-75. His last words were “I ask God to forgive all those who plotted and schemed against me, and planted false evidence. I did not commit this crime.”
Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, was killed January 12th, 2021. Montgomer was a victim of rape and child sex trafficking, and suffered severe mental illness. When asked if she had any last words, Montgomery quietly said “No.”
Cory Johnson was executed on January 14th, 2021. Johnson was mentally disabled and abused throughout his childhood in the foster care system. When asked if he had any last words, Johnson said “No. I’m okay. Love you.”
Dustin John Higgs
Dustin John Higgs was the last inmate executed by the Trump administration on January 15th, 2021. Higgs’ co-defendant was the sole shooter in the case, and was given life in prison without parole. While complicit, Higgs did not commit murder. His last words were “I’d like to say I am an innocent man. I did not order the murders.”
Of course, we also remember the victims of those killed by the death penalty. The convicted committed terrible crimes against them, and none of them deserved to lose their lives. Their names are William Mueller, Nancy Mueller, Sarah Powell, Jennifer Long, Greg Nicholson, Lori Ann Duncan, Kandace Duncan, Amber Duncan, Terry DeGeus, Alyce Slim, Tiffany Lee, Pamela Butler, Joann Lee Tiesler, Todd Bagley, Stacie Bagley, Lisa Rene, JG, Bobbie Jo Stinnett and her unborn child, Louis Johnson, Bobby Long, Anthony Carter, Dorothy Armstrong, Curtis Thorne, Linwood Chiles, Peyton Johnson, Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson, and Mishann Chinn.
We remember those killed by the death penalty. They were not innocent, but they were human beings. No one has the right to take away anyone else’s life, regardless of guilt, innocence, age, race, class, gender, sexuality — or anything else.