Daniel Lewis Lee: Washington judge stays all executions in 'public interest' hours after 1st was set for Monday

Daniel Lewis Lee: Washington judge stays all executions in 'public interest' hours after 1st was set for Monday
(Spokane Police Department)

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Monday, July 13, stayed all pending federal executions, including Daniel Lee Lewis' which was scheduled for Monday at 4 PM. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, in the order, wrote: "[B]ecause the public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process, and is greatly served by attempting to ensure that the most serious punishment is imposed in a manner consistent with our Constitution, the court finds that it is in the public interest to issue a preliminary injunction," according to a report. The move comes after a federal appeals court, on Sunday, July 12, had ruled that Lee's execution would proceed as scheduled. Last-minute appeals from the Trump administration is likely after the latest decision.

White supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee's execution, the first federal one in 17 years, was set to go ahead on Monday, July 13, after a US appeals court overturned a lower court injunction. The appeals court stated that a lawsuit by the victim's family, which had put the execution on hold had no legal standing. The decision came hours after the Trump administration appealed a judge's ruling to halt Lee's execution after the victim's family members said they would not be able to attend it due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The execution date for Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, who slaughtered an entire Arkansas family in 1996, was set for July 13 by the Justice Department last month, however, some family members of the victims had opposed him receiving a life sentence. The new dates of at least four executions starting mid-July were announced by the federal agency on June 15. Lee is now scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the US Justice Department's execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Just three days before Lee’s scheduled execution, the district court for the Southern District of Indiana granted a temporary injunction at the request of close family members of the victims who did not want to travel across the country amid the pandemic. The Justice Department, however, filed its notice to appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, July 10.

After the appeals court ruling, Baker Kurrus, the attorney for the victim's family told MEA Worldwide (MEAWW): "The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety."

"Eighty-one-year-old Earlene Branch Peterson, the mother and grandmother of the victims, along with Ms. Peterson’s surviving daughter and granddaughter, wanted to attend the execution and had planned to be there when it was scheduled for December 2019," the attorney added. "Because the Government has scheduled the execution in the midst of a raging pandemic, these three women would have to put their lives at risk to travel cross-country at this time. They will now appeal the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to seek reversal. My clients hope the Supreme Court and the federal government will respect their right to be present at the execution and delay it until travel is safe enough to make that possible.”

Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution, released a statement on the latest decision and told MEAWW: “The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol. The district court’s injunction ensures that the courts will have the opportunity to carefully address those issues. Given that these executions threaten to become COVID-19 super-spreader events, the injunction will also protect the lives and health of the correctional staff, victim family members, spiritual advisors, attorneys, and others who must witness the executions.”

Lee, 46, from Oklahoma, was given the death penalty after he, along with an accomplice Chevie Kehoe, plotted to steal guns and money in an attempt to fund a white-only ethnostate in the Pacific Northwest. The pair entered the Muller family house in Pope County on January 13, 1996, and robbed and murdered William Mueller, 53, a gunsmith with cash and weapons in his house. The duo also killed Mueller's wife Nancy, 28, and their eight-year-old daughter Sarah. The family was reportedly found weighed down with rocks and tossed in an Arkansas bayou.

President Trump's supporter, Earlene Peterson, whose daughter and granddaughter was brutally murdered by Lee, last month, had asked the president to not execute him. Peterson, in a statement to MEAWW, had said that Lee's execution — set for July 13, 2020 — would "bring my family more pain."

Peterson, in her plea to President Trump, said: "We don’t want Danny Lee to be executed. We feel Mr Lee’s execution would dishonor the memory of my daughter Nancy Ann and my granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth, who was killed when she was only eight years old. The man who actually killed my granddaughter — when Danny Lee refused to do so — has been sentenced to life, not death, and that’s what we think Mr Lee deserves, too." The grandmother was referring to Kehoe, who instead received a life imprisonment sentence.

"The attorney general has said the government owes it to the victims and their families to carry out federal executions like Mr Lee’s. Please take our family’s feelings into consideration and grant clemency to Mr Lee. Thank you and God Bless You," Peterson added.
Kehoe and Lee were arrested separately nearly a year after the murders in September 1997. However, they were tried together.  During the trial, the jury decided that Kehoe, who was described as the mastermind of the crime, should be given a life sentence without parole. Arkansas prosecutors at the time had decided to argue for the same sentence for Lee. However, the Justice Department officials in Washington overruled their decision and directed them to seek the death penalty for Lee. He was sentenced to death in 1999.

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