No executions yet under new federal lawsJune 3, 1997
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If Timothy McVeigh is sentenced to death for bombing the Oklahoma City federal building, he may not face execution for years to come.
Thirteen others have been handed federal death sentences since capital punishment was reinstated by the U.S. government in 1988, but none have been executed. One of the sentences has been overturned, and no executions are expected for at least another year.
The last federal government execution was carried out 34 years ago.
That's a dramatic contrast with capital punishment at the state level, where 387 people in 27 states have been put to death in the past 20 years. More than 3,000 others now sit on death rows in 34 states.
Experts attribute the lack of federal executions to several factors, among them Justice Department procedures. A committee of Justice executives and then Attorney General Janet Reno must approve every death penalty requested by federal prosecutors.
The process is secret, but officials say Reno has rejected about a third of the slightly more than 100 death penalty requests that reached her desk in the past five years.
An extensive and complex appeals process is largely responsible for delays in executing those already sentenced to death by federal courts. Attorneys say it usually takes six to 10 years to exhaust appeals in capital cases.
Adding to the uncertainty, the 1988 and 1994 laws in which Congress approved the federal death penalty for more than 60 offenses have not been fully tested. Despite broad support for the death penalty by the public, politicians and Supreme Court justices, opponents still hope the courts will strike down at least some provisions of the federal laws.
The Supreme Court halted all executions in 1972, but approved revised state statutes in 1976. Since then 38 states have passed death penalty laws.
The U.S. government historically has executed relatively few individuals. From 1927 to 1963, federal authorities imposed the death penalty 34 times, an average of fewer than one per year. The last execution was in 1963 when Victor Feguer was hanged at the Iowa Penitentiary for kidnapping and murder.
Experts believe that when the legal tests and appeals are exhausted in the coming few years, the U.S. government will again execute its death row inmates at a slow pace.
McVeigh and Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski are the best known of more than 30 federal prisoners for whom the death penalty is now sought.
McVeigh, convicted of murdering eight government employees in his federal trial in Denver, still faces a state trial in Oklahoma for the deaths of the other 160 people killed in the bombing.
If a death sentence is handed down and eventually carried out, it would likely be administered by lethal injection.
The Bush administration said federal executions would take place by lethal injection at a death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana. But in 1994, Congress said federal executions would be carried out in the state where the death sentence occurs, using the method of execution approved in that state. Both Oklahoma and Colorado use lethal injection.
T H E B O M B I N G / C N N S T O R I E S / L I N K S
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