TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Taking advantage of the new federal administration, a group of 94 law enforcement figures around the United States have signed on to a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to end the federal death penalty—including Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten.

The letter (read in full here) was sent and published Monday, Jan. 25. It calls on Biden to follow through on his public stance against the death penalty by ending the federal death penalty “once and for all,” saying that it has been unevenly applied and unfairly administered in practice along racial, class and societal lines.

“We applaud your stance against the death penalty and also believe that this is a critical moment in our nation for action,” the letter states. “We need definitive and lasting steps that go beyond a moratorium that future administrations can readily undo.”

The letter also calls for the removal of those on death row, the withdrawal of current death penalty warrants, the dismantling of the death chamber at Terre Haute, encourage the Department of Justice leadership to instruct federal prosecutors to not seek the death penalty, to boost state-by-state efforts to stop capital punishment and support any legislation to end the federal death penalty.

The death penalty has been eliminated in New York State since 2007, but the letter comes on the heels of a spate of federal executions during the late stages of former President Donald Trump’s administration. According to the letter, 13 people were executed by the federal government off of death row in the last year.

“Many have tried for over 40 years to make America’s death penalty system just,” the letter continues. “Yet the reality is that our nation’s use of this sanction cannot be repaired, and it should be ended. The death penalty raises serious concerns in tension with the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law. It is unequally and arbitrarily applied, ineffective at improving public safety, and a waste of taxpayer resources; and its use presents the perilous risk of executing an innocent person.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at