The U.S. government on Friday is preparing to carry out its third execution this week as lawyers and activists denounced the two earlier executions for being conducted without valid death warrants.
Dustin Lee Honken, 52, was given the death penalty in 2005 for the 1993 deaths of Greg Nicholson, his girlfriend Lori Ann Duncan, and her daughters, Kandace Duncan and Amber Duncan in Iowa. Months later he also killed Terry DeGeus. His accomplice, former girlfriend Angela Johnson, also received the death penalty for her involvement, but her sentenced was reduced to life imprisonment.
Honken and his lawyers are awaiting a ruling on an application for a stay challenging the federal government’s execution protocol. When U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered the resumption of federal executions in July 2019, he ordered that all lethal injections will be carried out with a single drug — pentobarbital.
Lawyers argued that the lethal injection protocol is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Defense attorneys have also asked for their client’s spiritual adviser to be able to minister to him before and during the execution at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.
While individual states have carried out executions for the past four decades, federal executions have been on a hiatus since 2003. That year, the U.S. government put to death Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. for the rape and murder of a fellow soldier, Pvt. Tracie McBride in 1995.
The U.S. government carried out its first executions since then this week — Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death early Tuesday and Wesley Purkey early Thursday, both on the morning after their scheduled execution dates. Lawyers and advocates for the men said the U.S. government wasn’t legally allowed to carry out the executions because their death warrants expired at 11:59 p.m. the night before.
“Under federal law, this should have precluded any execution without sufficient notice of a new date and time for the execution,” Purkey’s lawyer, Rebecca Woodman, said Thursday. “Reporters in Terre Haute tweeted that the government was, nevertheless, moving forward with its plans to execute Mr. Purkey.”
Sister Helen Prejean with the Ministry Against the Death Penalty said this week’s executions are evidence that the federal government “has gone rogue.” She called for Congress to conduct an investigation into the proceedings.
“The deeply flawed execution process the [Department of Justice] is overseeing is not about justice, nor about the victims’ families. It is a flexing of political muscle by an administration which is an habitual offender when it comes to the abuse of power,” she said.
If his lethal injection goes forward, Honken will be the first Iowan to be executed since 1963. The state outlawed the death penalty in 1965.
UPI: Danielle Haynes