The US government has executed a man who kidnapped and raped a 16-year-old Texan girl before spraying her with gasoline and burying her alive.
Orlando Hall is the eighth federal inmate to be put to death this year after a hiatus of almost two decades.
Hall died by injection Thursday in federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. His attorneys have raised concerns that Hall, who was black, was convicted on the recommendation of an all-white jury.
The Trump administration has renewed federal executions this year. Only three federal detainees had been executed in the previous 56 years. Hall was convicted of the kidnapping and death of Lisa Rene in 1994.
The US Supreme Court is clearing the way for the federal government to execute a man convicted of kidnapping and raping a 16-year-old Texan girl, clubbing her with a shovel and burying her alive.
The High Court ruling Thursday night overturned an earlier court ruling that had halted Orlando Hall’s execution. The government had previously filed an appeal with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, although no decision was rendered in that case when the Supreme Court issued its orders.
Hall, 49, was among five men sentenced for the kidnapping and death of Lisa Rene in 1994. He is believed to be the eighth federal inmate to be put to death since the Trump administration resumed federal executions this year after a hiatus of almost two decades without one.
His lawyers had raised a number of concerns in their court challenges and appeals, including constitutional questions and concerns about the execution protocols of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Earlier today, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said the execution should be stayed as the court assesses the issues raised by Hall’s lawyers. Less than an hour after the order was issued, the Justice Department immediately filed an appeal with a federal appeals court in Washington.
Hall’s lawyers also argued that bias played a role in his death sentence; Hall is black and his sentence was recommended by an all-white jury. His lawyers also argue that restrictions and concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic have limited their ability to help him.
The Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General William Barr, citing concerns about the virus asking for a stay of execution. The letter said the virus “will make any scheduled execution a powder keg for further outbreaks and heighten concerns over the possibility of a miscarriage of justice.”
A judge ruled Thursday that the US government must postpone until next year the first execution of a federal female inmate in nearly six decades after her lawyers contracted the coronavirus while visiting her in prison. Lisa Montgomery was to be put to death on December 8.
Hall, now 49, was among five men sentenced for the kidnapping and death of Lisa Rene in 1994.
According to federal court documents, Hall was a marijuana dealer in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who occasionally purchased drugs in the Dallas area. On September 24, 1994, he met two men at a Dallas-area car wash and gave them $ 4,700 in the hopes that they would come back with the marijuana later. The two men were René’s brothers.
Instead, the men claimed their car and money had been stolen. Hall and others thought they were lying and were able to track down the address of the brothers’ apartment in Arlington, Texas.
When Hall and three other men arrived, the brothers were not there. Lisa Rene was at home alone.
The court records offer a chilling account of the terror she faced.
“They are trying to break down my door! Hurry up! she said to a 911 dispatcher. A muffled cry is heard seconds later, with a man saying, “Who are you on the phone with?” The line then goes out.
The men drove to a motel in Pine Bluff. René was sexually assaulted several times during the drive and at the motel over the next two days.
On September 26, Hall and two other men led René to the Lake Byrd Natural Area in Pine Bluff, their eyes covered by a mask. They took her to a grave they had dug a day earlier. Hall placed a sheet over René’s head and then hit her on the head with a shovel.
When she ran another man and Hall took turns hitting her with the shovel before she was gagged and dragged into the grave, where she was sprayed with gasoline before the dirt was deposited on her.
A coroner determined that René was still alive when she was buried and died of asphyxiation in the grave, where she was found eight days later.
Crossing the Texas-Arkansas line made the case a federal crime. One of Hall’s accomplices, Bruce Webster, was also sentenced to death, although a court overturned the sentence last year because Webster is intellectually disabled. Three other men, including Hall’s brother, received lesser sentences in return for their cooperation in the trial.
Hall’s lawyers say jurors who recommended the death penalty were not told about the severe trauma he suffered as a child or that he once saved a 3-year-old nephew from drowning by jumping in a motel pool from a balcony.
Donna Keogh, 67, first met Hall 16 years ago when she and other volunteers from her Catholic church started a program to provide Christmas gifts to children of federal prison inmates. They have since corresponded.
Keogh said Hall has two sons, aged 28 and 27, and 13 grandchildren.
“It’s something we talked about all the time, it was the grandchildren,” said Keogh, who is seven.
Keogh said Hall felt remorse for his crimes and changed his life in prison, educating himself and becoming an avid reader. She cannot understand why he has to die, but said his latest emails indicated he was relying on his Islamic faith. “He seemed to be in a peaceful place he made his peace with God,” Keogh said.
Five of the first six federal executions this year involved white men; the other was Navajo. Christopher Vialva, who was black, was put to death on September 24.
Critics have argued that the execution of white inmates was primarily a political calculation in a racially prejudiced country involving the criminal justice system, particularly following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. .
According to a recent report from the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center, black people remain over-represented on death row, including federal death row. The organization’s database shows that 25 of 55 federal death row inmates (46%) are black, while blacks make up only about 13% of the U.S. population.
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