The US government on Friday executed Dustin Lee Honken, the third federal inmate to receive the death penalty this week after the punishment was revived by the Trump administration following a 17-year hiatus.
Honken was pronounced dead at 4:36 p.m., the Bureau of Prisons said.
Honken was sentenced to death in October 2005 for shooting and killing five people in July 1993 in an attempt to hide his multistate methamphetamine drug dealing operation.
Daniel Lewis Lee was executed Tuesday morning and Wesley Ira Purkey was executed Thursday morning, both in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Justice Department restarted executions for the first time since 2003.
Honken converted to Catholicism while in prison and his attorney, Shawn Nolan, said in a statement Friday that his client had atoned for his crimes.
“Dustin Honken was redeemed. He recognized and repented for the crimes he had committed, and spent his time in prison atoning for them,” Nolan said. “During his time in prison, he cared for everyone he came into contact with: guards, counselors, medical staff, his fellow inmates and his legal team. Over the years he grew incredibly close to his family, becoming a true father, son, brother and friend.”
He continued, “There was no reason for the government to kill him, in haste or at all. In any case, they failed. The Dustin Honken they wanted to kill is long gone. The man they killed today was a human being, who could have spent the rest of his days helping others and further redeeming himself. May he rest in peace.”
US District Judge Leonard Strand on Tuesday denied Honken’s request to delay his execution because of the coronavirus pandemic. Strand also denied Honken’s motion to declare his execution void and said the Bureau of Prisons has authority in implementing the execution and setting the date.
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who said he had visited Honken and other inmates at the prison, wrote a letter to President Donald Trump last week asking that he commute Honken’s sentence and telling the President that he had witnessed Honken’s “spiritual growth in faith and compassion.” Earlier this month, a group of Catholic bishops in Iowa also sent a letter to Trump asking him to commute the sentences of Honken, Lee, Purkey and Keith Dwayne Nelson, who is scheduled to be executed in August.
Father Mark O’Keefe, Honken’s spiritual adviser, who gave him his last rites, filed a motion requesting an injunction to delay the execution until after the coronavirus pandemic because of potential exposure to the virus and health risks, which was denied. In the motion, counsel for O’Keefe – who is 64 – argued he would “assume the risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19 in order to honor his religious obligation” and that the government had placed “a substantial burden” on his religious exercise.
This story has been updated with additional comment.