1 of 3 | Demonstrators with Death Penalty Action participate in a protest against the death penalty at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 10 (UPI) -- A group of demonstrators descended upon the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, to protest the U.S. government's resumption of federal execution after a 17-year hiatus.
The demonstration came hours before the scheduled execution of Brandon Bernard, 40, for the 1999 deaths of a married couple in Texas. He is awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court on his application for a stay.
Death Penalty Action, an anti-death penalty group, organized the midday demonstration, along with two others scheduled to take place around the time of Bernard's execution later in the day.
The protesters called for President Donald Trump to halt the five federal executions scheduled to take place during the last weeks of his term. They've also called for him to grant clemency to Bernard.
"Now it really is up to the President," DPA Director Abraham Bonowitz said in a release announcing the protests. "His remaining handlers are loyalists who don't want him to have to deal with something he doesn't like. The clemency recommendation is creating a storm of people tweeting at him and calling on him to do the right thing. The world is watching."
Allison Cohen, a spokeswoman for DPA, said up to 20 people attended Thursday's demonstration, with participation by Vote Common Good, Red Letter Christians, Pax Christie USA and the Franciscan Action Network, among others. Clergy members and family members of murder victims also were in attendance.
The U.S. Justice Department began carrying out the executions of federal death row inmates in July after a 17-year hiatus on the practice.
The previous federal execution was that of Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. in March 2003 for the rape and murder of a fellow soldier, Pvt. Tracie McBride in 1995.
Jones' was the third federal execution in 40 years. In 2014, former President Barack Obama ordered then-Attorney General Eric Holder to review the use of the death penalty in the United States, effectively implementing a moratorium on executions.
Since July, the Justice Department has executed eight inmates: Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken in July; Lezmond Mitchell and Keith Dwayne Nelson in August; William LeCroy and Christopher Vialva in September; and Orlando Hall in November.
Another five have been scheduled before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration: Bernard on Thursday, Alfred Bourgeois on Friday, Lisa Montgomery on Jan. 12, Corey Johnson on Jan. 14 and Dustin Higgs on Jan. 15.
Hall's November execution was the first to happen during the transition of a presidency since 1880 under the administration of President Grover Cleveland.
"It's crazy that we are executing our federal death row prisoners during the lame-duck session," Cohen said.
She also noted that if all remaining executions go forward, Trump will have executed more federal death row inmates than any other president since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.
The Eisenhower administration executed 10 federal inmates -- including the Rosenbergs, who were convicted of espionage -- over the course of his eight-year presidency.
"This is politically motivated and it's ugly," Cohen said.
DPA's evening vigils are scheduled to begin around 5:30 p.m. EST in the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., and near the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., the location of Bernard's execution.