WASHINGTON – The Justice Department scheduled two additional federal executions on Friday, an announcement that comes weeks after it fought off last-minute legal challenges and successfully resumed federal executions following a 17-year pause.
The executions of Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy are both scheduled to be carried out in late September. The government carried out three executions in July, and two other executions had been set previously for August.
Vialva, 40, was convicted along with a co-defendant in the 1999 kidnapping and killing of an Iowa couple at Fort Hood in Texas. The youth ministers had stopped to use a payphone in Killeen, Texas, and agreed to give Vialva and two others a ride, authorities said. Vialva pulled out a gun, forced the couple into the trunk and drove around for several hours, stopping at ATMs to withdraw cash and attempting to pawn the woman’s wedding ring, according to prosecutors.
The victims, Todd and Stacie Bagley, were both shot in head and placed in trunk of their car, which then was set afire. Vialva -- who is the first Black inmate to be scheduled to be executed since the federal government resumed the death penalty this year -- is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 24. A co-defendant in the case, Brandon Bernard, also received death sentence, though his execution date has not yet been scheduled.
LeCroy, 50, of Georgia, was convicted of raping and killing Joann Lee Tiesler, a 30-year-old nurse, in 2001 and then stealing her car. Prosecutors said he broke into her home and attacked her when she came home from a shopping trip, binding her hands behind her back before he strangled her with an electrical cord and raped her. They said he then slit Tiesler’s throat and stabbed her repeatedly in the back.
At the time, one of LeCroy’s lawyers argued he should face state charges and not be tried in federal court under the federal carjacking statute. LeCroy's lawyers said he had no intention of stealing the car when he was burglarizing Tiesler’s home. He was arrested at the U.S.-Canada border and was previously convicted of firearms and drug offenses, burglary, aggravated assault and child sex abuse charges.
LeCroy is scheduled to be executed on September 26.
The resumption of federal executions by lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, started on July 14, with the execution of former white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee. Two others, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, were executed later the same week.
Anti-death penalty groups say President Donald Trump is pushing for executions prior to the November election in a cynical bid to burnish a reputation a law-and-order leader.
U.S. officials have portrayed the executions, particularly those of men convicted of brutal killings of children, as bringing long-delayed justice for victims and their families. There are currently 58 men and one woman on federal death row, all of them in Terre Haute.
At least until this year, the federal government has not been prolific executioner compared to states.
Combined, states have executed thousands of people over decades. But just 37 were executed for federal crimes between 1927 and 2003, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Thirty-four were executed between 1927 and 1963, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — put to death in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets.
No federal executions were carried out from 1963 to 2001. And only three happened from 2001 to 2003. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was among them.
The Justice Department announced an Aug. 26 execution date for the only Native American on federal death row, Lezmond Mitchell, earlier this week. Officials had previously set Keith Dwayne Nelson’s execution for the same week in August.
Mitchell was convicted of the 2001 killing of a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter. Nelson was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl while she was rollerblading near her Kansas home, raping her in a forest, then strangling her.
Lee, Purkey and Honken’s victims also included children.
Tarm reported from Chicago