Attorney General William Barr said in a statement he had directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to schedule the executions of five inmates. Mr Barr said the five had been convicted of murders or rapes of children or the elderly.

The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.

“Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals,” Mr Barr said in a statement. “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.” The announcement lifts what was an informal moratorium on the federal death penalty since the 2003 execution of Louis Jones Jr, a 53-year-old a Gulf War veteran, for the kidnap and murder of 19-year-old soldier Tracie Joy McBride.

The Texas death chamber is seen June 23, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas.
Image captionThe death chamber in Huntsville, Texas

The death penalty was outlawed at state and federal level by a 1972 Supreme Court decision but reinstated in 1988. According to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 people were sentenced to death between 1988 and 2018 but only three have been since executed. There are 62 inmates currently on federal death row.