Federal Death Penalty

Executions Under the Federal Death Penalty

Five people have been executed since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988. View a list of earlier executions here.

Timothy McVeigh, White male, executed on June 11, 2001. McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death in June 1997, for the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, in which 168 people were killed. McVeigh waived his collateral appeals, and the Government set McVeigh’s execution on May 16, 2001. McVeigh was granted a 30-day stay of execution by Attorney General John Ashcroft after it was discovered that the FBI had failed to disclose more than 3,000 pages of document to McVeigh’s defense team. McVeigh’s co-defendant, Terry Nichols, was capitally prosecuted by the federal government in a separate trial. In December 1997, he was convicted by the jury and sentenced to life without parole. Nichols was later capitally tried in Oklahoma state court for the murders of the 161 non-federal employees in Oklahoma City. In May 2004, he was convicted, and the jury deadlocked and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. (Terry Nichols Fast Facts, CNN Library; Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts, CNN Library.)

Juan Raul Garza, Latino male, executed on June 19, 2001. Garza, a marijuana distributor, was convicted and sentenced to death in August 1993, in Texas for the murders of three other drug traffickers. Garza was denied review by the U.S. Supreme Court in late 1999 and was facing an execution date of August 5, 2000. The date was postponed until the Justice Department finished drafting guidelines for federal death row inmates seeking presidential clemency, which were issued in early August. Garza was offered the opportunity to apply for clemency under the new guidelines and a new execution date of Dec. 12, 2000 was set. In December 2000, President Clinton again delayed Garza’s execution for at least six months to allow further study of the fairness of the federal death penalty. (In Death, Garza Seeks Forgiveness, ABC News, June 19, 2001.)

Louis Jones, Black male, executed on March 18, 2003. Jones was sentenced to death in November 1995 in Texas for the kidnap/murder of a young white female soldier. The United States Supreme Court granted review of the case and heard arguments on February 22, 1999. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on June 21, 1999. Jones, a decorated Gulf War veteran who had no prior criminal record, claimed that his exposure to nerve gas in Iraq and post-traumatic stress from his combat tours contributed to his murder of Pvt. Tracie Joy McBride in Texas. President George W. Bush refused Jones’ clemency request. (Associated Press, U.S. Executes Gulf War Veteran Who Raped and Killed a Soldier, NY Times, March 19, 2003.)

Daniel Lewis Lee, white male, executed on July 14, 2020. Daniel Lewis Lee and co-defendant Chevie Kehoe were convicted in 1999 of killing Nancy Mueller, her husband William Mueller, and her 8-year-old daughter Sarah Powell. Lee sought executive clemency with the support of Mueller’s family, the prosecutor, and the judge who tried him in an Arkansas federal court. They all believed that executing Lee would be a miscarriage of justice given the life sentence imposed on his much more culpable co-defendant. Judge G. Thomas Eisele described Kehoe as the “ringleader,” and trial testimony showed that Kehoe killed Sarah Powell after Lee refused, saying he would not kill a child. (Mark Berman, Trump administration carries out first federal execution since 2003 after late-night Supreme Court intervention, The Washington Post, July 14, 2020.)

Wesley Ira Purkey, white male, executed on July 16, 2020. Wesley Purkey was sentenced to death in Missouri federal court in 2003 for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a Kansas City, Missouri, teenager. Lawyers for Purkey argued he was incompetent to be executed because he had Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and traumatic brain injuries that “render[ed] him unable to rationally understand the reason the United States seeks to execute him.” Court filings catalogue a lifelong history of trauma and mental illness that have contributed to his current condition. He experienced sexual, physical, and emotional abuse beginning at age 5, and began using alcohol and drugs as a child. He has been diagnosed with numerous mental illnesses, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression, and has multiple documented suicide attempts. (Vic Ryckaert, Elizabeth DePompei, and Justin L. Mack, Wesley Ira Purkey executed in Terre Haute, 2nd man put to death this week, Indianapolis Star, July 16, 2020.)

Dustin Lee Honken, white male, executed on July 17, 2020. Dustin Lee Honken was sentenced to death for the murder of two girls in Iowa in 1993. Although the State of Iowa does not have the death penalty, Honken was convicted and sentenced to death in federal court. Honken challenged constitutional errors in his trial and sentencing. During his trial, a number of jailhouse informants provided testimony, which Honken later challenged based on evidence that the informants had coordinated their testimony and that the government withheld evidence that could have been used to impeach their credibility. He also argued that his attorneys failed to adequately investigate his dysfunctional family background and present evidence of how his upbringing led to mental health problems. (Tyler J. Davis, Live updates: Higher courts rebuff late legal efforts, Iowan Dustin Honken put to death, Des Moines Register, July 17, 2020.)

Lezmond Mitchell, Native American, executed on August 26, 2020. Mitchell and his co-defendants (including a juvenile) allegedly got a ride from a woman and her 9 year old granddaughter in Arizona. They killed both victims and stole the car supposedly for use in an armed robbery. Each victim was stabbed at a separate location. The Attorney General authorized a capital prosecution against Mitchell under a carjacking theory — although the murders occurred on Navajo tribal land and the tribe had not “opted in” to the federal death penalty. Attorney General Ashcroft directed that the case be tried capitally without consulting the tribal government. Mitchell was found guilty on May 20, and sentenced to death on September 15, 2003.

Keith Nelson, White, executed on August 28, 2020. Nelson was convicted of kidnapping a girl from her Kansas home and murdering her in Missouri. On November 28, 2001 a jury recommended the death penalty for Nelson, and on March 11, 2002, a federal judge imposed the death penalty.

Execution #Execution DateFirst NameLast NameRaceNumber, Race, and Sex of VictimsExecution MethodExecution Volunteer

717

6/11/01

Timothy

McVeigh

White

7 White Males

1 White Female*

Lethal Injection

Yes

720

6/19/01

Juan

Garza

Latino

3 Latino Males

Lethal Injection

No

837

3/18/03

Louis

Jones

Black

1 White Female

Lethal Injection

No

15207/14/20DanielLeeWhite2 White Females, 1 White Male

Lethal Injection

No
15217/16/20Wesley

Purkey

White1 White FemaleLethal InjectionNo
15227/17/20DustinHonkenWhite2 White Males, 3 White FemalesLethal InjectionNo
15238/26/20LezmondMitchellNative American2 Native American FemalesLethal InjectionNo
15248/28/20NelsonKeithWhite1 White FemaleLethal InjectionNo

* 168 victims were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh was federally prosecuted and sentenced to death for the murders of the eight federal agents who were killed in the bombing.