Daniel Lewis Lee: US judge delays first federal execution in 17 years

Daniel Fowler
July 14, 2020

A US federal judge issued an injunction on Monday stopping what would have been the first federal execution in 17 years, scheduled for later in the day, to allow the continuation of legal challenges against the government's lethal-injection protocol.

Lee, a self-confessed white supremecist who was convicted of killing three members of a Arkansas family, was pronounced dead at 8:07 am EDT (1207 GMT), the spokeswoman, Kristie Breshears, said by phone.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had ruled Monday morning that three death row inmates, and a fourth whose execution is scheduled for August, could pursue their claim that the federal government's plan to use a single drug will cause severe pain and needless suffering.

The higher court overturned the injunction, saying no federal statute or regulation gave the victims the right to attend the execution.

"This Court now grants the Government's last-minute application to vacate the stay, allowing death-sentenced inmates to be executed before any court can properly consider whether their executions are unconstitutionally cruel and unusual", Kagan wrote in part.

All four men had been convicted of killing children.

Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that is not high on the list of American concerns right now.

Executions on the federal level in the United States have been rare, and the Government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 - most recently in 2003. "If we really do not have that we will not get handle of the virus".

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In announcing the planned resumption of executions, Attorney General William Barr said past year: "We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system".

They hope to delay the execution until travel to the prison is safe, he said.

Barr in June directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of Lee, Purkey, Honken and Nelson. There are now four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.

Prosecutors say Lee murdered an Arkansas gun dealer, his wife and their eight-year-old daughter, then dumped their bodies in a swamp. The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

More than 1 000 USA religious leaders urged Trump last week to abandon plans to resume federal executions and Dunham accused the president of "political use of the death penalty".

Barr had originally scheduled five executions for December 2019, which got delayed due to lawsuits challenging the USA government's protocol for capital punishment through lethal injection.

Lee's attorneys have pressed their case that his death sentence is unfair, and cited evidence from his trial that Chevie Kehoe, the alleged ringleader, actually killed Sarah.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, stating that "the resumption of federal executions promises to provide examples that illustrate the difficulties of administering the death penalty consistent with the Constitution".

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