Washington (AFP) - A convicted murderer was put to death Thursday as President Donald Trump's administration pushes ahead with executions of criminals, despite a tradition of outgoing governments refraining from the practice.
Orlando Hall, whose trial was tainted by racism according to his lawyers, was killed by lethal injection at an Indiana jail, the Justice Department said.
Hall, an African American, was convicted in 1995 of participating in the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, Lisa Rene, and received a death sentence.
He was executed Thursday night by an injection of pentobarbital in a federal jail after the Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeal for a stay.
A statement on the DOJ website said: "Today, Orlando Cordia Hall was executed at US Penitentiary Terre Haute in accordance with the capital sentence unanimously recommended by a federal jury and imposed by the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas in 1996. Hall was pronounced dead at 11:47 pm EST."
The decision was the first by new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who sided with her five conservative colleagues on the nine-judge bench to greenlight the execution.
It was the eighth by the federal government since the Trump administration resumed implementing capital punishment in July, ending a 17-year hiatus prompted by questions about execution methods and broader opposition to the practice.
One of three planned for the coming weeks, it flies in the face of a 131-year tradition of outgoing "lame duck" administrations refraining from carrying out executions, allowing the incoming government to shoulder the responsibility.
Trump lost the November 3 election and though he refuses to concede defeat, Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes capital punishment, is expected to take office on January 20.
The Justice Department's move also contrasts with an effective halt on executions by the individual states due to the complications of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit prisons hard.
Hall, 49, did not deny his role in the 1995 murder, according to his lawyers Marcia Widder and Robert Owen.
But they argue that the all-white jury that heard his case was not allowed to learn about his background in a poor, violent home and the good deeds he had performed.
The jury was also not allowed to hear about Hall's remorse, including an apology to the victim's family.
"Had jurors known these facts about Mr. Hall, there is every reason to believe they would have spared his life, despite his admitted involvement in a terrible crime," they said.
They noted that three of the five involved in the crime were given jail terms in exchange for testifying against Hall and one other man, who was also sentenced to death.
And they pointed to "troubling racial disparities" in which convicted African Americans are dealt the death penalty far more often than whites.
"Under these circumstances, allowing Mr. Hall's execution to go forward would be a grave injustice."
The Justice Department plans two more executions in the administration’s "lame duck" period.
Lisa Montgomery, who would be the first woman put to death by the federal government in 70 years, was due to die on December 8 but her execution was postponed until at least December 31 after her lawyers contracted Covid-19.
Another death row inmate, Brandon Bernard, is set to be executed on December 10.