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U.S. Executes Dustin Lee Honken, The Third Federal Execution In A Week

Honken, convicted of the murders of five people, died by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. The federal government resumed executions this week for the first time since 2003.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo from Getty Images.

The federal government executed Dustin Lee Honken today, the last execution of three that the Department of Justice has carried out since resuming executions for the first time in 17 years this week. 

Honken, 52, was pronounced dead at 4:36 p.m. Eastern time after officials at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, administered a lethal dose of pentobarbital, according to the Des Moines Register, which had a reporter present. 

According to his attorneys, he recited a poem by a Jesuit priest in his final statement. His last words were, “Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for me,” according to the newspaper. 

In a statement after the execution, his attorney, Shawn Nolan, said Honken had repented for his crimes and had grown close to his family and to people in prison. “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,” he said. “The man they killed today was a human being, who could have spent the rest of his days helping others and further redeeming himself.”

In 2005, Honken was convicted of the murders of five people in Iowa, two of whom were children, and sentenced to death. Honken ran a methamphetamine ring and the government said he killed two of the victims, an informant and potential witness, to avoid federal drug trafficking charges. It took seven years for authorities to find the bodies. The next year, Honken was indicted on federal murder charges. 

Though Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965, Honken was charged federally for the murders because the victims were government informants. In court filings, his attorney had charged that 15 witnesses who testified against Honken were coaxed and threatened into doing so and given incentives that were not disclosed to the defense. They have also said that his trial counsel did not meet the constitutional standard and failed to present evidence of his upbringing, which included neglect, abuse, and drug use. 

Honken was said to have become a devout Catholic during his incarceration. “Killing Mr. Honken will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes,” wrote Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, in a letter to President Trump last week, urging him to commute Honken’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole. “Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways.”

Honken’s priest, Mark O’Keefe, had attempted to stop the execution because of the threat of COVID-19. 

The federal government also executed Daniel Lewis Lee on Tuesday morning and Wesley Ira Purkey Thursday morning. A district court judge had sought to block their executions, but the Supreme Court cleared the way for the government to execute them in rulings issued in the middle of the night. 

Keith Dwayne Nelson’s execution is the last that the DOJ scheduled for the summer. It is set for Aug. 28.