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United States: Why this frenzy of federal executions?

This is the second federal execution in two days. Friday, December 11, Alfred Bourgeois, a 55-year-old African-American, was executed by lethal injection in the Terre-Haute (Indiana) penitentiary. He had been convicted of the murder of his 2-year-old daughter in 2002. 24 hours earlier, Brandon Bernard, another 40-year-old African-American, met the same fate for his participation in a double murder in the state of Texas in 1999.

Unprecedented acceleration

The names of the two men join a long list of ten people executed by the US federal government since July. Four other names must come to complete it by January 20, the day of the handover from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. A first for 17 years of interruption.

On this occasion, Donald Trump also sat on 130 years of American tradition, according to which the president withholds federal executions during the transition with his successor. “What has never happened is that the majority of executions are carried out by the federal government. Usually it is the States which execute ”, underlines the historian of the United States at the University of Lille and specialist in the death penalty, Simon Grivet.

No presidential pardon

Calls from reality TV star Kim Kardashian to pardon Brandon Bernard, who was just of legal age at the time of the incident and whose “Brain had not finished developing”, did nothing. No more than the half a million petitioners to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. For Donald Trump, there is no question of going back.

Initiated by its Minister of Justice William P. Barr in July 2019, the return of federal executions will have taken just a year to materialize, the time to reassure the Supreme Court on the new lethal injection protocol. What to flatter his electorate while Donald Trump still refutes his defeat: “It is something that he will put forward because it fits in with his ideology of ‘law and order'”, Simon Grivet advances.

Decisions against the grain

Yet the death penalty has never been so unpopular in the United States. According to the latest Gallup poll released in November, 55% of Americans said they were in favor of the death penalty, up from 71% in 2006. “Even the most conservative find that it costs too much and that there have been a lot of judicial errors”, continues the researcher.

“There have been numerous death penalty scandals in recent years. Some products were denounced for the suffering they caused ”, explains Jean-Eric Branaa, political scientist specializing in the United States. “Other scandals have arisen following inquiries which have proven the innocence of some of the executed people. It shocked a lot of Americans. “

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, this obstinacy makes people cringe even in the Republican camp. Very attached to the death penalty, the State of Texas, for example, has decided to suspend its executions as a health precaution. “The executions are public and usually involve a lot of people. These are the people we want to protect ”, specifies Jean-Eric Branaa.

Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House should put an end to this enforceable frenzy. The future American president has already positioned himself in favor of the abolition of the death penalty.


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