Death Row Support Project reflects on first federal executions in 17 years

By Rachel Gross

The Death Row Support Project

The federal government’s actions this past week are tragic on so many levels. What are the motives for ending a 17-year hiatus of the federal death penalty? The federal government has carried out the executions of two death row inmates this week: Daniel Lee on July 13 and Wesley Purkey on July 16.

Especially at a time when support for the death penalty in the US is at its lowest in 45 years, this is nothing other than a misguided effort to appeal to what in the past has been a popular idea: being “tough on crime.”

Another popular misconception is that using the death penalty is done for the sake of family members of murder victims. In fact, the killing of Daniel Lee was protested by the mother of the murder victim who, motivated by her Christian faith, pleaded with President Trump to stop the execution.

The chaos that has filled the last hours before the federal executions this week points to the ridiculousness and arbitrariness of the death penalty. As courts and judges haggled back and forth about the lives of individuals, any semblance of respect for life was shattered. According to his lawyers, Mr. Lee was strapped to a gurney for the final four hours of his life, while the legal challenges played out. Wesley Purkey suffered from mental illness and dementia, leaving many to question his awareness of what was happening to him.

The Church of the Brethren’s 1987 statement “The Death Penalty” says that our faith leads us to “an understanding of God’s will for us which upholds the sanctity of human life and personality” (find the statement at ).

Let us advocate that our federal and state governments stop the use of this immoral practice.

— Rachel Gross is director of the Death Row Support Project, a Church of the Brethren project that connects volunteer pen pals with people on death row. For more about the DRSP go to .

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