USA - Daniel Lewis Lee was executed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

14 July 2020 :

Daniel Lewis Lee executed after Supreme Court clears the way for first federal execution in 17 years.

After the Supreme Court of the United States stepped in, Daniel Lewis Lee was executed Tuesday morning by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Lee, the first federal inmate to be executed since 2003, was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. His last words: "You're killing an innocent man."

While judges considered a last-minute appeal from Lee's attorneys that the 8th Circuit Court had not issued a mandate to carry out the execution, Lee remained strapped to the gurney for about four hours early Tuesday morning. He remained with his attorney and his spiritual adviser, an Appalachian Pagan minister.

About 20 witnesses watched the execution in four separate rooms. At 7:46 a.m., the shades on windows in each room were opened to reveal Lee strapped to the gurney with his arms out to his sides and two IV lines running from a port in the wall behind him.

Lee was asked if he wanted to make a final statement. Lee was defiant and asserted his innocence and criticized the court system for ignoring DNA evidence.

“I bear no responsibility for the deaths of the Mueller family,” he said. He said he and his co-defendant were in another part of the country at the time of the murders.

Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, was found guilty of murdering a family of three, including an 8-year-old girl, in January 1996 in Arkansas. He was convicted of murder in aid of racketeering three years later and was sentenced to death.

It took two or three minutes after the drugs were administered for Lee to die, according to a witness. He didn’t appear to be suffering. His lips moved like he was blowing bubbles, but nothing came out. At one point he raised his head slightly, then lay it back down.

He became still at 8:02 a.m., but remained on the table for another five minutes before he was pronounced dead.

Lee's execution had been scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday, but a series of legal challenges delayed his death. A 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the early hours of the morning Tuesday allowed him to be put to death, but a last-minute appeal to the 8th Circuit Court halted the issue for several more hours.

The Supreme Court's decision came hours after a panel of federal appeals judges in the District of Columbia denied the Department of Justice's motion to stay an injunction that pressed pause on all federal executions.

Lee was among more than a dozen people attached to a lawsuit arguing that the drug injection violates their Eighth Amendment rights — essentially, that the effects of the drug after it is administered constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The Bureau of Prisons uses a single drug, pentobarbital, in executions. The inmates' attorneys argued the drug is likely to cause extreme pain, as it induces flash pulmonary edema, producing a drowning sensation.

While a district court judge agreed there may be merit to their argument, members of the Supreme Court did not, saying the drug has become "a mainstay of state executions" because, the court said, it has been used over 100 times without incident, is considered less painful than other lethal injection protocols and its use has been upheld by several appeals courts when challenged against the Eighth Amendment.

Last-minute stays, like the one issued Monday morning, should be the exception, not the norm, the court wrote in its opinion: "It is our responsibility 'to ensure that method-of-execution challenges to lawfully issued sentences are resolved fairly and expeditiously,' so that 'the question of capital punishment' can remain with 'the people and their representatives, not the courts, to resolve.'"

But the issue split the court, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer dissenting.

In his dissent, Breyer wrote that there were "significant questions" regarding the constitutionality of the injection, and that the solution to these questions may be to review "whether the death penalty violates the Constitution." In her dissent, Sotomayor wrote that the decision contradicts a 2019 ruling regarding a similar request, and the hastiness with which Lee's case was handled "sets a dangerous precedent."

Lee, his victims' family members and the DOJ all submitted documents seeking to delay the execution Monday. Family members of those killed in the 1996 robbery cited health concerns, saying traveling to attend the execution would heighten their risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Earlene Peterson, the mother and grandmother of two of Lee's victims, has argued that Lee's co-defendant, Chevie Kehoe, was the ringleader on that fateful day. She said that because the co-defendant was sentenced to life in prison, Lee should receive the same. 

"As a supporter of President Trump, I pray that he will hear my message: the scheduled execution of Danny Lee for the murder of my daughter and granddaughter is not what I want and would bring my family more pain," Peterson said in a written statement late last month. "We don’t want Danny Lee to be executed."

The Bureau of Prisons does not identify those who were witnesses to the execution, but Baker Kurrus, who represents Peterson and other family members, told IndyStar Tuesday morning that the government had done everything in its power to keep the family from attending, including potentially jeopardizing their health. According to the BOP's website, there are four confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute.

The family, he said, had a legal right to see the execution carried out, and should have been able to do so.

"(The DOJ) did not consider my clients' wishes at all," Kurrus said, "and they trampled on the rights of the family."

Lee's attorney, Ruth Friedman, said in a written statement Tuesday that the Bureau of Prisons, once given the green light, executed Lee quickly and without his counsel present.

"Over the four hours it took for this reckless and relentless government to pursue these ends, Daniel Lewis Lee remained strapped to a gurney: a mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government's urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed," Friedman said.

Three other inmates are scheduled to be executed at the Terre Haute prison, including two more this week.

Wesley Ira Purkey, who raped, murdered and dismembered a 16-year-old girl and was separately convicted of bludgeoning an 80-year-old woman with a claw hammer, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.

Dustin Lee Honken, who shot and killed five people — including two men who planned to testify against him — is scheduled to be executed Friday. 

Keith Dwayne Nelson, who kidnapped, raped and strangled a 10-year-old girl, is scheduled to be executed Aug. 28.

Lee becomes the 8th person executed this year in the United States, the 1,520th since the United States resumed executions in 1977, and the 4th put to death by the Federal Government.


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