Judge halts federal executions scheduled to take place in Terre Haute

Executions set in the coming weeks at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute are now on hold.

Posted: Nov 21, 2019 9:32 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2019 6:36 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Executions set to happen at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute in the next several weeks are now on hold.

In an order filed on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted motions for preliminary injunction filed by Alfred Bourgeois, Dustin Lee Honken, Daniel Lewis Lee, and Wesley Ira Purkey. A panel of judges had already issued a stay in the case of Lezmond Mitchell.

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HOW WILL FEDERAL EXECUTIONS IMPACT THOSE LIVING IN TERRE HAUTE

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP held a public meeting Monday to talk about the impact of Federal Executions on the people living in Terre Haute.

'EXECUTE JUSTICE, NOT PEOPLE...' SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE SPEAK OUT AGAINST FEDERAL EXECUTIONS

The Attorney General announced Federal Executions will begin again in Terre Haute in December. Sisters of Providence at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods said they're still against the act.

LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT WILL USE EXTRA MAN-POWER DURING FEDERAL EXECUTIONS

Federal executions will take place this coming December right here in Vigo County and county sheriff says they'll have to beef up patrols during those times.

"This court finds that at least one of Plaintiffs’ claims has a likelihood of success on the merits and that absent a preliminary injunction, they will suffer irreparable harm. It further finds that the likely harm that Plaintiffs would suffer if this court does not grant injunctive relief far outweighs any potential harm to the Defendants," wrote Judge Tanya Chutkan. "Plaintiffs have clearly shown that absent injunctive relief, they will suffer the irreparable harm of being executed under a potentially unlawful procedure before their claims can be fully adjudicated. Given this showing, the court need not reach the various other irreparable harms that Plaintiffs allege."

Lee was set to be the first federal execution to happen in 16 years. In July, the Department of Justice announced the executions of five death-row inmates set to take place in December of this year and January of 2020. 

The death-row inmates filed several lawsuits saying the new execution protocol is unlawful and unconstitutional on numerous grounds. The court consolidated the cases. In July, when the Department of Justice announced it was resuming federal executions, it changed to a single-drug protocol, pentobarbital sodium. Previously, there was a three-drug protocol.

Legal counsel for the death-row inmates said there was a need for additional discovery on the new protocol.

The lawyers for the inmates further believe some of these men were "convicted or sentenced to death based on junk science the prosecution no longer defends." They also argue "some were sentenced to death even though more-culpable co-defendants received life sentences, and all of them suffered extreme and sustained childhood trauma."

“This decision prevents the government from evading accountability and making an end-run around the courts by attempting to execute prisoners under a protocol that has never been authorized by Congress. By granting the preliminary injunction, the court has made clear that no execution should go forward while there are still so many unanswered questions about the government’s newly announced execution method," said Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution.

DEATH-ROW INMATES PREVIOUSLY SET FOR EXECUTION

According to a release from the Department of Justice earlier this year, the five prisoners set for execution were:

  • Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, murdered a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl. After robbing and shooting the victims with a stun gun, Lee covered their heads with plastic bags, sealed the bags with duct tape, weighed down each victim with rocks, and threw the family of three into the Illinois bayou. On May 4, 1999, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty of numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and he was sentenced to death. Lee’s execution is scheduled to occur on Dec. 9, 2019.
  • Lezmond Mitchell stabbed to death a 63-year-old grandmother and forced her nine-year-old granddaughter to sit beside her lifeless body for a 30 to 40-mile drive. Mitchell then slit the girl’s throat twice, crushed her head with 20-pound rocks, and severed and buried both victims’ heads and hands. On May 8, 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona found Mitchell guilty of numerous offenses, including first-degree murder, felony murder, and carjacking resulting in murder, and he was sentenced to death. Mitchell’s execution is scheduled to occur on Dec. 11, 2019.
  • Wesley Ira Purkey violently raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl, and then dismembered, burned, and dumped the young girl’s body in a septic pond. He also was convicted in state court for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane. On Nov. 5, 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri found Purkey guilty of kidnapping a child resulting in the child’s death, and he was sentenced to death. Purkey’s execution is scheduled to occur on Dec. 13, 2019.
  • Alfred Bourgeois physically and emotionally tortured, sexually molested, and then beat to death his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. On March 16, 2004, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found Bourgeois guilty of multiple offenses, including murder, and he was sentenced to death. Bourgeois’ execution is scheduled to occur on Jan. 13, 2020.
  • Dustin Lee Honken shot and killed five people—two men who planned to testify against him and a single, working mother and her ten-year-old and six-year-old daughters. On Oct. 14, 2004, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa found Honken guilty of numerous offenses, including five counts of murder during the course of a continuing criminal enterprise, and he was sentenced to death. Honken’s execution is scheduled to occur on Jan. 15, 2020.

SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE ON DEATH PENALTY

At the time of the announcement earlier this year, the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods spoke out against the executions resuming. The group said members and other clergy would be at each execution, praying for the prisoners, their families, and the people they killed.

"What they've done is detestable, certainly, and they deserve to be punished but killing them is not the answer to that," Sister Rita Clare Gerardot said. "Life in prison without the possibility of parole is certainly a punishment that they have to live with day after day after day."

In a statement earlier this year, the Sisters said in-part, "We, the Sisters of Providence believe we are to forgive one another, not to seek retribution with vengeance and further violence. We re-affirm our opposition to capital punishment in all cases and ask that all sentences of death row inmates be commuted to life without parole. We urge our federal government to abolish the death penalty once and for all."

PREVIOUS FEDERAL EXECUTIONS

37 federal executions have been carried out from 1927 through 2003. The first was James Aldermon on August 17, 1927 for murder. He was executed by hanging at the Broward Country Jail, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The most recent three in the early 2000's were in Terre Haute, Indiana at the Federal Penitentiary.

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