Updated at 6:08 p.m. July 25.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is set to resume capital punishment after a 16-year hiatus, with plans for the coming months to execute five death row inmates convicted of murder, the Justice Department announced on Thursday.
The BOP has adopted an execution drug currently used by several states, clearing the way for the lethal injection of the five inmates, according to a department statement. Three of the executions are scheduled for December and two for January 2020. The department said additional executions will be scheduled at a later date.
The last federal execution in the United States took place in 2003 when Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. was put to death for the kidnapping and murder of a 19-year-old soldier. There are currently 65 inmates on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. More than half of U.S. states have capital punishment laws, with many conducting executions on a state level.
Attorney General William Barr, a fervent advocate of the death penalty, said the Justice Department, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has sought the punishment against "the worst criminals," including the five inmates scheduled for execution.
"The Justice Department upholds the rule of law, and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system," Barr said in a statement.
Among the five convicts scheduled for execution is Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group who was convicted in 1999 of murdering a family of three, including an 8-year-old girl. All five convicts have exhausted all their appeals and other remedies, the department said.
Morris Moon, an attorney for Lee, said the trial judge, lead prosecutor and family members of the victims all believe that Lee should receive a life sentence instead of death.
"Given the problems that undermine the fairness and reliability of Danny Lee's conviction and death sentence, the government should not move forward with his execution," Moon said in a statement.
The inmates will be put to death using pentobarbital, a lethal drug that replaces a three-solution procedure previously used in federal executions. Since 2010, 14 states have used the drug in more than 200 executions, according to the Justice Department.
Capital punishment was halted in the U.S. in 1972 after the Supreme Court found it an "arbitrary punishment." But it was later partially reinstated in 1988, leading to the execution of three death row inmates.
The U.S. is the only Western country where executions still take place. Twenty-nine states currently have death penalty laws. Last year, 25 death row inmates were executed in the U.S. The death penalty has been virtually abolished in Europe, where Belarus is the only country that still allows it.