Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons Friday to set execution dates for three more death row inmates before President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20.
Eight federal inmates have been executed in 2020 and two others were already scheduled to be put to death before President Trump leaves office.
When Barr announced the resumption of the death penalty last summer, Biden responded by saying it is time to get rid of capital punishment.
"Since 1973, over 160 individuals in this country have been sentenced to death and were later exonerated," Biden tweeted in response to Barr greenlighting executions. "Because we can’t ensure that we get these cases right every time, we must eliminate the death penalty."
He also said he would "work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example."
Multiple Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Barr earlier this week, urging him to halt any more executions before President Trump leaves office.
“President-Elect Biden’s plan for strengthening America’s commitment to justice includes the elimination of the federal death penalty and Vice-President-Elect Harris is an original cosponsor of legislation we have introduced to eliminate the federal death penalty,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“While you will remain in office for a few more weeks, going forward with executions in the weeks before the new administration takes office would be a grave injustice.”
The three death row inmates scheduled Friday for execution were convicted of murder.
Alfred Bourgeois is set to be executed Dec. 11 for abusing, beating and torturing his 2-year-old daughter to death in 2002.
Cory Johnson murdered seven people who were caught up in his drug-trafficking activities in 1992 and is set to be executed on Jan. 14.
Dustin John Higgs is set to be executed Jan. 15 for kidnapping and murdering three women in the 1990s.
The most recent inmate to be executed was Orlando Cordia Hall, who was put to death Thursday just before midnight for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in 1994.
At least one other person, Brandon Bernard, already was scheduled to be executed before the end of 2020. He was convicted of murdering married youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley, in 1999. Bernard's execution is scheduled for Dec. 10.
Lisa Montgomery was scheduled to be put to death Dec. 8 for strangling a pregnant woman then cutting her open and kidnapping her baby, but a judge ruled Thursday that her execution must be delayed until next year because her attorneys contracted coronavirus. She would be the first female federal inmate executed in nearly 60 years.
It is unclear when exactly Montgomery's new execution date will be, but the chances of it happening likely will hinge on whether Biden has been inaugurated yet.
Last year, a Gallup poll found 60% of Americans think life in prison is the appropriate punishment for murder, and 36% said the death penalty is the appropriate punishment. That's a shift from previous decades.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a large majority of Americans thought the death penalty was justified, and the country was split roughly 50-50 on the issue through most of the 2000s.
According to the Pew Research Center, "public support for the death penalty has tracked rates of violent crime," meaning that as violent crime rates drop, support for the death penalty drops.
If that trend continues, then support for the death penalty may increase soon, as certain types of crime have soared in 2020 amid social upheaval and the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a September report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, Homicide rates in 27 U.S. cities increased by 53% between June and August of 2020 over the same period last year. Aggravated assaults went up 14%, while burglaries fell.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.