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A New Era For Federal Executions?

A New Era For Federal Executions?It's been decades since the federal government executed a prisoner, but a Tufts expert says that trend may change following Timothy McVeigh's. Terre Haute, Ind.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.12.01] Prior to Monday morning, the federal government hadn't used the death penalty in almost four decades, leaving individual states to decide on their own whether to use capital punishment in light of the ongoing public debate over its merits.

But a Tufts expert says yesterday's execution of Timothy McVeigh -- the convicted bomber of the Oklahoma City Federal Building -- and a second federal execution scheduled for June 19th, may indicate that capital punishment is making a return to the federal judicial system.

"There's been nothing like this one," said Tufts' Hugo Bedau in an interview with WBZ radio yesterday. "It puts the federal government squarely in the world's eye in support of the death penalty."

Before McVeigh's case, the federal government hadn't executed anyone in almost 40 years, leaving the use of capital punishment to state judicial systems.

While the position allowed the government to appear neutral on the issue for many years, Bedau said McVeigh's execution thrusts the federal government back into the center of the debate.

McVeigh's death "opens the door to the resumption of executions of federal prisoners," Bedau said, according to the Scripps Howard News Service.

And calls for a public viewing of executions complicate the issue further.

According to MSNBC, "Bedau said the McVeigh execution is the latest in a series of steps, including the 'three strikes and you're out' laws and the elimination of parole for some crimes that could lead back to public executions."

Over 60 years have passed since the last public execution, Bedau told the news service, adding that capital punishment has changed dramatically since it was first used in the U.S.

In a USA Today article, Bedau described the first executions as "a disgrace." Over time, the more gruesome forms of capital punishment gave way to more humane methods -- by the 1970s, the Tufts expert said the U.S. switched to lethal injections.

"It's about as painless, neat and acceptable from a moral point of view as you can get," he told Scripps Howard.

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