US executes seventh federal inmate in three months

Washington, Sept 25 (AFP/APP):The United States on Thursday executed an African-American man sentenced to death for a 1999 double murder, the seventh execution of a federal inmate in three months despite pleas from his lawyers that he was not mentally an adult at the time of the crime.

Christopher Andre Vialva, 40, died by lethal injection at 6:46 pm at the federal prison at Terre Haute, Indiana, the Department of Justice said. Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court had rejected an appeal made by his lawyers. He was sentenced to death in 2000 after stealing a young couple’s car in Texas, locking them in the trunk, shooting them and then burning their bodies and the car.

“Despite the very, very heinous nature of the crime that Christopher has been convicted for, it’s my position that based on the science, his brain was not the brain of a fully fledged adult,” Jason Chein, a professor of psychology at Temple University told CNN. It was the first time in more than 70 years that federal authorities put a teenage offender to death, the Death Penalty Information Center monitoring group said. Vialva was 19 when he committed the crimes.

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In the US, crimes are generally judged in states’ courts, while federal courts take up the most serious offenses. But they rarely hand down death sentences and carry them out even less often. Between 1988 and 2003, only three federal death row inmates were executed, then none for 17 years. But the administration of President Donald Trump, an advocate of the death penalty who is hoping to win a second term in November’s elections on a law and order platform, decided a year ago to renew federal executions.

After various legal developments, the administration succeeded in resuming federal executions in July, and has now put seven to death, including a Native American whose execution was opposed by the Navajo Nation. The other five condemned men were white. The death penalty is on the decline in the US, where only a handful of states — particularly in the south — still use it.

Twenty-two executions took place in 2019 and 14 since the beginning of 2020, including the seven carried out by federal authorities. Opinion polls show that support for the death penalty is on the decline among Americans, though it remains strong among Republicans.

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