TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — National attention turned to Terre Haute in 2020 as federal executions resumed at the Federal Correctional Complex on the southside of town after a 17 year hiatus.
This wasn’t the first time Terre Haute received such attention nor was it the longest time the country has gone without a federal execution.
George W. Bush’s administration carried out three executions between 2001 and 2003
Juan Raul Garza, who was convicted of murdering three people while running a marijuana smuggling and distribution ring in Texas, was scheduled to be the first person to be executed by the federal government since 1963.
Appeals in the case postponed the execution, and instead domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed first on June 11, 2001. Garza was executed eight days later.
The final execution before the hiatus came on March 18, 2003 when Louis Jones, Jr. was put to death for the rape and murder of United States Army soldier Tracie Joy McBride.
While an official moratorium on federal executions was never put into place, a botched state execution in Oklahoma in 2014 prompted President Barack Obama to direct the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.
In July of 2019, then Attorney General William Barr announced the review was complete and the Trump administration was ready to proceed, scheduling five executions for the following December.
A legal back-and-forth regarding the government’s plan to use only pentobarbital for the executions as well as questions about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic delayed the events for another six months; however, on July 14, 2020, Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death by lethal injection.
An unprecedented 13 executions in total were carried out under the Trump Administration in less than a year’s time.
July 14, 2020: Daniel Lewis Lee
Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
Despite pleas from the victims’ relatives to commute the sentence to life without parole, Lee was the first federal inmate to be executed under the Trump Administration.
As he prepared to take his final breath, he looked at the media witnesses, including WTWO/WAWV’s own Dana Winklepleck, and admitted to doing many terrible things in his life; however, he maintained he did not kill the Mueller family.
“You killed an innocent man,” were his final words, according to Winklepleck.
July 16, 2020: Wesley Ira Purkey
Wesley Ira Purkey died by lethal injection two days after Lee. He was convicted of raping, murdering and dismembering Jennifer Long, 16, in Missouri.
When given a chance to speak, Purkey apologized for the pain he caused his victim’s family. He also also apologized to his own daughter for the pain he caused her, according to WTWO/WAWV media witness Dana Winklepleck.
While he admitted to what he’d done, Purkey did not think he should be put to death.
His final words, “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”
Long’s family spoke to the media after the execution, saying they did not believe Purkey’s apology was sincere.
“He needed to take his last breath. He took my daughter’s last breath,” her father, William Long, said. “There is no closure, there will never be because I can’t get my daughter back.”
July 17, 2020: Dustin Lee Honken
Dusin Honken, an Iowa chemistry student-turned-meth kingpin, became the third federal inmate to be executed in a week’s time.
Honken was convicted of killing two men, Terry DeGeus and Greg Nicholson, who were going to testify against him. He also killed the woman Nicholson lived with, Lori Duncan and Lori’s little girls Kandi, 10, and Amber, 6.
According to the Associated Press, the girls were found still in their bathing suits because the shooting occurred on a hot summer day.
Honken, who was known for his verbosity at hearings and for a rambling statement declaring his innocence at sentencing — spoke only briefly, neither addressing victims’ family members nor saying he was sorry.
His last words were, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for me.”
Aug. 26, 2020: Lezmond Charles Mitchell
Lezmond Mitchell was the only Native American on federal death row.
Mitchell, 38, and an accomplice were convicted of killing 9-year-old Tiffany Lee and 63-year-old Alyce Slim, who had offered them a lift in her pickup truck as they hitchhiked on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona in 2001.
They stabbed Slim 33 times, slit Tiffany’s throat and stoned her to death. They later mutilated both bodies.
Mitchell was put to death Aug. 26, 2020 despite objections from many Navajo leaders who had urged President Donald Trump to halt the execution on the grounds it would violate tribal culture and sovereignty.
Tiffany’s dad spoke to the media following the execution.
“I have waited nineteen years to get justice for my daughter, Tiffany. I will never get Tiffany back, but I hope that this will bring some closure,” he said.
Aug. 28, 2020: Keith Dwayne Nelson
Keith Dwayne Nelson was executed Aug. 28 at the Federal Correctional Complex, 21 years after he abducted, raped and murdered 10-year-old Pamela Butler.
Pamela’s mother, Cherri West, spoke following the execution saying she feels at peace and that she feels her daughter is now at rest.
Sister Barbara Battista of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, a group that opposes the death penalty, was inside the death chamber during his execution at his request.
Nelson declined a final statement. He had delivered comments strewn with profanity at his sentencing.
Sept. 22, 2020: William LeCroy, Jr.
William Emmett LeCroy, 50, became the sixth federal inmate executed by lethal injection in 2020.
A former U.S. soldier who said an obsession with witchcraft led him to slay a Georgia nurse in a bid to lift a spell he believed she put on him, LeCroy also said he believed she might have been his old babysitter he called Tinkerbell, who he claimed sexually molested him as a child.
LeCroy struck Joann Lee Tiesler at her home with a shotgun, bound and raped her. He then slashed her throat and repeatedly stabbed her in the back. After killing Tiesler, he realized she couldn’t possibly have been the one he believed molested him.
During his execution, sister Barbara Battista with Sisters of Providence served as the minister of record.
She says she received a letter with LeCroy’s last words a day after his death.
Tiesler’s family did not want to speak to the media, but issued a statement after LeCroy was pronounced dead.
“Today justice was finally served. William LeCroy died a peaceful death in stark contrast to the horror he imposed on my daughter Joann,” Tom Tiesler’s statement began.
Sept. 24, 2020: Christopher Vialva
Christopher Vialva, who was convicted in 2000 for the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley, became the seventh man executed in 2020 at Terre Haute’s Federal Correction Institution.
In 1999, Vialva and his accomplices asked the Bagleys — who were visiting Texas from their home in Iowa — for a ride as they were driving home from a church service. Vialva pulled a gun on the couple and he and his accomplices took their money, jewelry and ATM card. The Bagleys were locked in their trunk as Vialva and the others drove around, withdrawing money from the couple’s account at bank machines. The couple sang “Jesus loves us” just before being shot in the head. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the couple pleaded for their lives.
Vialva’s final statement was a prayer for the families of Todd and Stacie, asking God to comfort them. His final words were, “I am ready, Father.”
Earlier in the day, Vialva’s mother, Lisa Brown, publicly apologized to the Bagleys and their survivors.
“I’ve never been able to tell you that because I was told I could not have access to you,” Brown said to assembled reporters. “My son wants you to know that he is deeply remorseful for the pain that he has caused you and the other members of the family for your loss.”
She also said of her son, “In his own words, he is changed and he is redeemed,” she said. “And I believe that with all my heart. And that’s why I am able to let him go today.”
The Bagleys’ family were not scheduled to speak to the media, but Todd Bagley’s mother Georgia issued a statement.
Nov. 19, 2020: Orlando Hall
Orlando Hall, 49, who, along with five accomplices, was convicted in the abduction, repeated rape and death of Lisa Rene in 1994, was executed Nov. 19, 2020.
According to WTWO’s Dana Winklepleck, chosen to be one of the media witnesses to the execution, when Hall was asked if he had any final words, he said what appeared to be a prayer but it was not in English. He invited everyone to join Islam.
He looked to the room where the people he chose to witness his execution were and said to tell his children he loved them. His voice was too low to hear all of his final statement, but he did say, “I want to thank everyone who supported me and my loved ones.”
Pearl Rene, sister of the victim, released a statement following the execution, saying in part, “Today marks the day of a very long and painful chapter in our lives. My family and I are very relieved this is over.”
Following the execution, MyWabashValley.com spoke with Hall’s spiritual advisor, Yusuf Ahmed Nur, who said that while Hall did not apologize for his crimes publicly, he was sorry for what he did.
“To me he’s very remorseful. He knows exactly what he did was wrong,” Nur said. “We talked about that. It’s really hard to satisfy. I don’t blame them. Anybody who loses their loved one. She was 16, I mean my heart goes out to her.”
Dec. 10, 2020: Brandon Bernard
Brandon Bernard, who was 18 when he and four other teenagers abducted, robbed and murdered Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way from a Sunday church service in Killeen, Texas, was executed Thursday night at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, the ninth inmate to be put to death in 2020.
Bernard’s execution gained worldwide media attention as well as attention from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian who used social media to plead with President Donald Trump to halt the execution.
#BrandonBernard even briefly trended worldwide on Twitter.
WTWO’s Dana Winklepleck, who served as a media witness to the execution, reported that Bernard’s final words were, “I’m sorry. That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
He was remorseful, Winklepleck added, saying he asked his family and the victim’s family for forgiveness. His final statement lasted about three minutes.
Georgia Bagley, mother of victim Todd Bagley, said Bernard’s statements of remorse “helps heal my heart.” She said she has forgiven him.
Dec. 11, 2020: Alfred Bourgeois
Alfred Bourgeois, 56, a Louisiana truck driver, was executed Dec. 11 after being convicted of severely abusing his 2-year-old daughter for weeks in 2002 before killing her by slamming her head against a truck’s windows and dashboard.
Lawyers for 56-year-old Alfred Bourgeois said he had an IQ that puts him in the intellectually disabled category and they contend that should have made him ineligible for the death penalty under federal law; however, appeals courts concluded that neither evidence nor criminal law on intellectual disability supported the claims
WTWO’S Dana Winklepleck, who witnessed the execution for the media, said that Bourgeois was defiant to the end, saying he did not commit the crimes he was accused of. He asked God to forgive those who plotted and schemed against him and planted evidence, saying he loved his children.
He also prayed. His last words were, Winklepleck reported, “As I close my eyes, I commit my spirit into your hands.”
He gave his spiritual advisor, who stood in the corner of the execution room, a thumbs-up multiple times.
Family members of Jakaren Harrison, Bourgeois’ victim, issued a brief statement reading, “Jakaren lost her life brutally to a monster who live for 18 years after the crime. A child should not have to endure what she did then. None of us could have imagined that she would return from a summer visit in a casket.
Jan. 13, 2021: Lisa Marie Montgomery
Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, was executed Jan. 13, just 7 days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Montgomery was convicted of strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude cesarean and fleeing with the Stinnett’s baby. Montgomery drove about 170 miles from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder.
She was arrested the next day after showing off the premature infant, Victoria Jo, as her own.
Biden is against the death penalty, and has said he will work to end its use.
Montgomery’s legal team said she suffered “sexual torture” for years, including gang rapes, as a child, permanently scarring her emotionally and exacerbating mental-health issues that ran in her family.
At trial, prosecutors accused Montgomery of faking mental illness, noting her killing of Stinnett was premeditated and included meticulous planning, including online research on how to perform a C-section.
Dana Winklepleck, who served as the media witness for WTWO/WAWV, said that Montgomery did not have any final words before her execution.
As a curtain was raised in the execution chamber, Montgomery looked momentarily bewildered as she glanced at journalists peering at her from behind thick glass. A woman standing over her shoulder leaned over, gently removed Montgomery’s face mask and asked if she had any last words.
“No,” Montgomery responded in a quiet, muffled voice. She said nothing else.
Prior to Montgomery, the last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady on Dec. 18, 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Missouri.
Jan. 14, 2021: Corey Johnson
Corey Johnson, 52, was the 12th inmate put to death at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, since the Trump administration restarted federal executions following a 17-year hiatus.
He was a drug-trafficker sentenced to death in connection with seven of the slayings during what has been called one of the worst bursts of gang violence Richmond, Virginia had ever seen.
Prior to his execution, Johnson and another death row inmate, Dustin Higgs, contracted COVID-19.
Lawyers for both inmates argued that lung damage from the coronavirus makes it more likely they’ll suffer excruciating pain from a lethal injection of pentobarbital. Johnson’s lawyers also argued he is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible to be put to death, under both federal law and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
WTWO’S Taylor Johnson, who served as a media witness to the execution, reported that when Johnson was asked if he wanted to deliver any final words, he said, “No, I’m okay.” Likewise, family members of the victims gave no public statements.
In a final statement, Johnson said he was “sorry for my crimes” and said he wanted the victims to be remembered. He said the pizza and strawberry shake he ate and drank before the execution “were wonderful” but he didn’t get doughnuts he wanted. He also thanked his minister and lawyer.
Jan. 16, 2021: Dustin Higgs
The execution of Dustin Higgs on Jan. 16, 2021 was th 13th federal execution since July, an unprecedented run that concluded just five days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden — an opponent of the federal death penalty.
In October 2000, a federal jury in Maryland convicted Higgs of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the killings of Tamika Black, 19; Mishann Chinn. 23; and Tanji Jackson, 21. His death sentence was the first imposed in the modern era of the federal system in Maryland, which abolished the death penalty in 2013.
According to MyWabashValley.com’s Nicole Krasean, who served as a media witness for the execution, Higgs’ final words were “I’m an innocent man. I did not kill Tanji Jackson, Mishann Chinn and Tamika Black.”
He went on to say he wanted to “tell my family I love them. Be strong.”
Following the execution, a victim’s family member who didn’t want to give his name spoke to reporters about the “drastic day” nearly 25 years ago when Higgs made the decision to “end three beautiful lives.”
The sister of Tanji Jackson released a written statement speaking directly to Higgs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report