New rule could allow gas, firing squads for US executions

It remains unclear whether the Justice Department will seek to use any methods other than lethal injection for upcoming executions.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is quietly amending its execution protocols, no longer requiring federal death sentences to be carried out by lethal injection and clearing the way for other methods like firing squads and poison gas. 

The amended rule, published Friday in the Federal Register, allows the U.S. government to conduct executions by lethal injection or use “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed.” 

A number of states allow other methods of execution. 

It remains unclear whether the Justice Department will seek to use any methods other than lethal injection for upcoming executions.

President-elect Joe Biden is against the death penalty and will work to end its use, his spokesman said last Saturday. 

The Justice Department has scheduled three more federal executions before the Jan. 20 inauguration, including two shortly before he is set to take office.

Federal executions resumed this year despite the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 250,000 people and is raging inside the nation’s prison systems. This year, the Justice Department has put to death more people than during the previous half-century, despite waning public support from both Democrats and Republicans for its use.

In a court filing on November 20, the department said it was scheduling the executions of Alfred Bourgeois for Dec. 11 and Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs for Jan. 14 and 15. Two other executions had been scheduled for this year, including the first woman set to be executed by the federal government in about six decades. But on Thursday, a federal judge ruled that execution could not proceed before the end of the year.

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