The Justice Department amended a rule that previously restricted federal death sentences to be carried out by means of lethal injection, to broader methods as “prescribed” by the sentencing state.
The Federal Register was altered on Friday to allow the U.S. government to perform death sentences for federal prisoners by lethal injection, or “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed.”
Six states including California, Arizona, and Missouri, currently condemn prisoners to death by poisonous gas chambers. Execution by electrocution is allowed in Florida, Kentucky, and seven other states. Hanging is another method used in Delaware and Washington, while death by firing squad is still condoned in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah.
The change goes into effect on Dec. 24, with five inmates scheduled to death prior to Inauguration Day. Attorney General William Barr plans to execute prisoners convicted of “staggeringly brutal murders” and bring “justice to victims of the most horrific crimes,” since reinstating the practice in 2019 after a 17-year moratorium.
Lisa Montgomery, the only female federal death row inmate, is the first prisoner scheduled to be executed after the rule goes into effect. She was convicted of murdering eight-month pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett in 2004 and hacking the unborn child from her womb to reportedly raise as her own. The infant was discovered alive by authorities when she was arrested a day later.
Montgomery will be executed on Jan. 12 by lethal injection, though sentencing state Missouri also allows the option of lethal gas. Two days later, Corey Johnson, who was convicted of murdering seven people in a 1992 drug-related spree, will also be put to death by lethal injection. Although Virginia, where the crime occurred, still sanctions electrocution.
Dustin John Higgs’ execution is slated for Jan. 15, though without a specified method of death. He committed first-degree execution-style murder of three women in Maryland, where the death penalty is no longer a state punishment.
It is unclear if Barr is seeking to use an alternative method of death on Higgs, or whether he will attempt to switch Montgomery, or Johnson’s execution manner to the state accepted substitutes.