STREAMING NOW: Watch Now
CLOSINGS: View Closings

Court rules 1st federal execution in 17 years can proceed

But an appeal to Supreme Court vowed by victim's family

Posted: Jul 12, 2020 7:07 PM
Updated: Jul 14, 2020 9:57 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Sunday that the first federal execution in nearly two decades can proceed as scheduled on Monday.


The ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a lower court order that had put the execution of 47-year-old Daniel Lewis Lee on hold.


Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana. He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Friday in Indiana that the execution would be put on hold because of concerns from the family of the victims about the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 135,000 people and is ravaging prisons nationwide.


The Justice Department argued that the judge’s order misconstrued the law and asked the appeals court to immediately overturn the ruling.


The appeals court found that the claim from the victims’ family “lacks any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.”
The Justice Department also argued that while the Bureau of Prisons has taken measures to accommodate the family and implemented additional safety protocols because of the pandemic, the family’s concerns “do not outweigh the public interest in finally carrying out the lawfully imposed sentence in this case.”


But in a court filing Sunday, Justice officials said a staff member involved in preparing for the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus.


The Justice Department said the development would not mean an additional delay in the government’s timetable because the worker had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialized team sent to the prison to handle the execution.

Below is a statement from Baker Kurrus who represents the victims’ family in the lawsuit:

“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. 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.”

-Baker Kurrus, attorney for Earlene Branch Peterson, Kimma Gurel and Monica Veillette
-July 12, 2020


The relatives would be traveling thousands of miles and witnessing the execution in a small room where the social distancing recommended to prevent the virus’ spread is virtually impossible. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.
The victims’ family had argued they weren’t trying to overturn Lee’s death sentence but instead they “seek to exercise their lawful rights to attend the execution of Lee, so that they can be together at that moment in time as they grieve their losses,” according to the filing.


The family will appeal to the Supreme Court.


“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,” said family attorney Baker Kurrus. “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.”
The family hopes there won’t be an execution, ever. They have asked the Justice Department and President Donald Trump not to move forward with the execution and have long asked that he be given a life sentence instead.


The relatives, including Earlene Branch Peterson, who lost her daughter and granddaughter in the killing, have argued that their grief is compounded by the push to execute Lee in the middle of a pandemic. Peterson, who is 81 and has not left the county where she lives since February, was told by her doctor she should not travel and should avoid contact with others as much as possible to during the pandemic, the filing said.


“Plaintiffs face the unacceptable choice between exercising their right to witness the execution and risking exposure to a deadly disease,” the lawyers wrote in an appeals court filing on Saturday.


Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press in recent days that he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk.” The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.


The injunction that was imposed late Friday delays the execution until there is no longer such an emergency. The court order applies only to Lee’s execution and does not halt two other executions that are scheduled for later in the week.
The decision to resume executions has been criticized as a dangerous and political move. Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that isn’t high on the list of American concerns right now.
The federal prisons system has struggled in recent months to stem the exploding coronavirus pandemic behind bars. As of Friday, more than 7,000 federal inmates had tested positive; the Bureau of Prisons said 5,137 of them had recovered. There have been nearly 100 inmate deaths since late March.

Terre Haute
Few Clouds
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 89°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 85°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
83° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 86°
Rockville
Broken Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 79°
Casey
Broken Clouds
80° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 83°
Brazil
Few Clouds
83° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 89°
Marshall
Few Clouds
83° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 89°
Partly cloudy and calm
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 196699

Reported Deaths: 7846
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1119484928
Lake12741446
DuPage12312520
Kane9803305
Will9315344
St. Clair4028161
Winnebago3784131
McHenry3218114
Madison263476
Kankakee178768
Rock Island175636
Champaign168619
Peoria163035
Kendall137923
Unassigned1358209
Sangamon127433
DeKalb93830
LaSalle78324
Boone76623
Jackson72219
McLean65515
Macon64123
Tazewell5918
Adams5425
Coles48720
Randolph4707
Clinton41117
Ogle4115
Williamson4096
Whiteside35917
Stephenson3306
Grundy3265
Union32423
Monroe31813
Knox3031
Jefferson29019
Morgan2686
Iroquois26511
Henry2481
Vermilion2362
Cass23111
Bureau2153
Franklin1910
Warren1910
Perry1841
Macoupin1813
Lee1731
Montgomery1697
Effingham1621
Marion1610
Woodford1523
McDonough14615
Christian1434
Saline1322
Jo Daviess1271
Douglas1222
Logan1220
Livingston1162
Jersey1152
Pulaski941
Clark832
Shelby801
Mercer764
Moultrie740
Johnson690
White690
Fayette673
Washington670
Piatt630
Bond623
Hancock621
Wayne621
Carroll594
Jasper597
Greene580
Cumberland573
Menard560
Mason530
Gallatin512
Lawrence500
Ford492
Massac400
Alexander370
Wabash350
Fulton340
De Witt330
Crawford290
Edgar290
Hamilton290
Marshall270
Clay230
Pike230
Scott210
Richland200
Edwards180
Hardin180
Schuyler180
Brown140
Henderson130
Putnam130
Calhoun100
Pope90
Stark70
Out of IL00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 74992

Reported Deaths: 3044
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15963725
Lake7632275
Elkhart488385
Allen3937163
St. Joseph354682
Hamilton2803104
Vanderburgh199713
Hendricks1901108
Cass17969
Johnson1767118
Porter133839
Clark124447
Tippecanoe122111
Madison98765
LaPorte92130
Howard90565
Kosciusko86212
Bartholomew80147
Floyd79146
Marshall79022
Monroe75930
Delaware73852
Dubois70012
Noble68429
Boone68346
Hancock67038
Vigo66810
Jackson5885
Warrick58630
LaGrange55910
Shelby55827
Grant52830
Dearborn50828
Morgan48334
Clinton4403
Henry38520
Wayne37710
White37210
Montgomery35421
Lawrence35027
Harrison34123
Decatur33832
Putnam2908
Miami2742
Daviess27320
Scott26810
Greene25134
Jasper2452
Franklin24314
DeKalb2354
Gibson2284
Jennings22612
Steuben2113
Ripley2087
Carroll1932
Fayette1907
Perry18612
Starke1787
Posey1770
Orange17324
Wells1712
Wabash1703
Fulton1692
Jefferson1652
Knox1590
Whitley1546
Tipton14311
Washington1421
Spencer1363
Sullivan1341
Clay1245
Huntington1243
Randolph1234
Newton11810
Adams1022
Jay920
Owen911
Pulaski831
Rush804
Brown741
Fountain742
Blackford652
Ohio655
Benton620
Pike560
Vermillion550
Parke521
Switzerland520
Crawford450
Martin450
Union410
Warren231
Unassigned0206