Death Penalty

Family of Murder Victims Wants to Stop the Feds From Resuming Executions

Daniel Lewis Lee would be the first death row inmate executed by the federal government in 16 years.


"Yes, Daniel Lee damaged my life, but I can't believe taking his life is going to change any of that," said Earlene Peterson in a video asking President Donald Trump to grant her daughter and granddaughter's killer, Daniel Lewis Lee, clemency:

Peterson's plea comes about a month before Lee's scheduled execution. Attorney General William Barr announced in July that the Department of Justice will resume executions after a hiatus of 16 years.

"I can't see how executing Daniel Lee will honor my daughter in any way. In fact, [it's] kind of like it dirties her name," Peterson said. She believes Lee's sentence ought to be reduced to life in prison without parole.

Barr's idea of justice contradicts Peterson's desires. Upon announcing that federal executions will resume, Barr said the government owes "it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system," (which, in this case, was death, given that Lee was sentenced back in 1999). Barr's belief apparently holds true even when the victim's family says they don't support the killer's execution.

Daniel Lewis Lee faces execution in December.

In January 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist, helped Chevie Kehoe murder William Mueller, Nancy Mueller, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, in Tilly, Arkansas. Lee and Kehoe ambushed the family outside of their house, questioned the family about where they kept their money and guns, and proceeded to shoot them with a stun gun, cover their heads with plastic bags, and seal them with duct tape after finding $50,000 in cash, guns, and ammunition in the family's house (William Mueller was a gun dealer who owned a collection of guns and ammunition). The pair then drove the bodies to the Illinois Bayou where they weighted them and threw them into the water.

Kehoe and Lee wanted the family's cash and guns to fund a group called the "Aryan Peoples Republic" and establish a whites-only country in the Pacific Northwest.

On May 4, 1999, a jury convicted Kehoe and Lee of three capital murder counts, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit racketeering. The jury delivered a verdict of life in prison without parole to Kehoe. Lee, on the other hand, was sentenced to death on May 14 for committing the same crimes as Kehoe.

Peterson thinks that this outcome is unjust and has petitioned President Donald Trump—she voted for him in 2016 and plans to do so again—to grant Lee clemency. Lee is the first of five federal inmates on death row Barr is looking to execute. His execution is scheduled for December 9.

Lee ended up on federal death row instead of Arkansas' death row because he was found guilty of conspiring to violate and violating the "Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act" (RICO). RICO allows a case that would typically be prosecuted at the state level to be prosecuted by the federal government if an individual committed at least two instances of 35 potential crimes within 10 years while acting as part of an ongoing criminal organization (in this case, the Aryan Peoples Republic).

Peterson believes the jury's prejudices led to Kehoe and Lee receiving different sentences.

"Chevie Kehoe was dressed very nicely, like a young businessman, and Daniel Lee was not," Peterson said, noting that Lee was missing an eye and had a swastika tattooed on his neck. "He looked like an outlaw," and "was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom," she says.

Both the presiding judge and the leading federal prosecutor in the joint trial, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele and Dan Stripling, wrote separate letters to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer in 2014 expressing their disagreement with the difference in sentencing.

The federal death penalty has been in place since 1988, but only three people have been executed by the federal government in that time, most notably Timothy McVeigh in 2001. Nobody has been executed at the federal level since 2003.

The return of the federal death penalty brings with it a host of dangers. Most notably, it eliminates the possibility that inmates may later be exonerated when new evidence appears. Across the country, 166 people have been exonerated while on death row over the past 50 years.

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  1. Sorry, Earlene, this is not about you.

    1. Yeah...I agree. Fuck that mercy for the murderer shit....this fucker gets the needle. The world will be a materially better place afterward.

    2. It is. But it is also not limited to her. There are a lot of other Earlenes out there, and they might feel differently.

      Which is a good reason not to decide these matters on feelz.

  2. Who gives a shit? If we want to get into the business of allowing families of murder victims to set the punishment of murderers, then I guess we should execute someone whenever the family demands it. Moral authority goes both ways.

    1. Exactly!! The actual victims of murder can't speak for themselves. You know, because they are dead and all. So no matter what the family thinks or feels, the victim can't decide to forgive the murderer (at least, not in this world).
      If someone breaks into my home and steals something, I can decide to not press charges. But a murder victim doesn't have that ability.

      1. Forgiveness is a personal matter. Not something any justice system should be concerned with.

        1. And forgiveness is about and primarily to the benefit of the person doing the forgiving, not the person being forgiven. People miss that a lot.

    2. Yeah, pretty much. I'm not a big fan of the death penalty, but the fact that some victims' families aren't either is not a good argument against it. Of course, the fact that some victims are for it isn't a good argument for it either.

    3. You're right that families of victims shouldn't get any more or less consideration than everyone else, but I do think they are in a unique position to advocate against the death penalty. If they can ask for leniency, why can't the rest of us? Also, the family of the victims are in a better place than anyone else to guess what the victims would have wanted. Regardless, sentencing in criminal trials is supposed to be about what is best for society and I don't see how the death penalty could be better than life without parole. In either case, the person is no longer a threat to society and only a limited threat to others in the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, a dead person certainly cannot rehabilitate and eventually benefit society whereas a lifelong prisoner potentially can. Consider the story of Stanley Williams. Is anyone better off with him dead?

  3. Yes, Daniel Lee damaged my life, but I can't believe taking his life is going to change any of that
    Why does the family get to decide? The family can't forgive the man in the name of the victims. The family can forgive the killer for their own pain and suffering. The true victims of the crime can't speak for themselves. Because they were murdered!
    I would tend to agree that the RICO connection is pretty weak in this case (but not COMPLETELY unfounded), and so probably should have been tried at the state level.
    But, the disparity in sentencing is a non-sequitur. A JURY decided both of their punishments. So what they found the woman deserved life and he deserved death. We can agree or disagree, but I didn't see anything in the article that represents an actionable miscarriage of justice during the trial.

    1. I didn’t see anything in the article that represents an actionable miscarriage of justice during the trial.

      Justice is when you impeach and remove a president from office in the absence of any form of wrongdoing. Injustice is when a brutal murderer has to be held to account for his crimes.

      If only he'd been a kiddie fucker too, he could have been the Reason poster child.

      1. Why are you here when you clearly hate this place so much?

    2. Supposedly, Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, told a parole board that RFK would support Sirhan's parole, if he were alive.

      One wag commented, "What bad luck! The one guy in the world who would have helped you, and you killed him."

  4. "Aryan Peoples Republic"

    Splitters! *spit*

    1. It’s the Aryan Peoples’ Republic!

  5. I disclaim this portion of my Representative Republic.

  6. The next time you try to make an argument about how distasteful it is to climb on a pile of bodies to to push for gun control, look back on this article and then chug a gallon of bleach.

    Congrats on the utterly unblemished record of advocating zero accountability for every class of criminal though. What you lack in class you more than make up for in consistency.

    1. A life sentence is hardly "zero accountability".

      1. A life sentence is an absurd imposition upon every person who must finance or facilitate such a state of affairs.

        1. Anyone sentenced to more than X years just gets executed immediately instead, to save money? Where would you draw the line?

          1. Where would I draw the line?

            Mmmm, 20 years.

          2. Life imprisonment means imprisonment until your natural death up to an including all sorts of life prolonging medical care.

            How you think that equates to "X years" defies rational explanation.

            I draw the line at offenses that warrant the death penalty.

        2. That's a different question. The claim was that people arguing against the death penalty are advocating for zero accountability for all criminals.

          1. Not different, and not even a question. It was a an observation of the reality of what "life imprisonment" actually entails.

  7. How fucking hilarious would it be if Noah Shepardson was beaten and drowned and then his killer got off because his sad sack family who didn't give a fuck about him begged the court to release his killer? LMAO

    1. Are you equating life without parole as the killer "got off?"

      Reading the article, it sounds to me like the author is talking about the family's opinion because the DoJ directly referenced families of victims in the DOJ news release cited. Seems fair to say that DoJ opened up that can of worms themselves.

      1. Reason opposes life imprisonment as well though. And has advocated for ''''''''''criminal justice reforms'''''''''' that would entirely eliminate penalties for misdemeanor crimes of violence and substantially reduce penalties for felony violent crime. Probably one of their proudest achievements was succeeding in pushing for legislation that allows convicted Islamic terrorists to go free.

        1. Yeah, Reason did that. Nothing to do with the congress that passed it or the president who signed it. Reason looms large. They pretty much control congress. And Trump is right in their pocket.

        2. Do you honestly believe that all convicts are both guilty and irredeemable?

  8. So if the family of a murder victim wants the person found guilty of the crime executed, then that desire should be honored as well? Or is this a case of any argument that gets you the result you want is fair game?

    1. Anything that creates more violent crime and allows more criminals to escape any responsibility for their actions. It would be immeasurably better if the crime was committed against a child, but you take what you can get.

        1. Yeah, the more I read here the more I think this is a troll. A pretty good one, though, by current standards.

          1. Definitely beats OBL.

  9. Shockingly, having a visible swastika tattoo does not garner any empathy towards you when accused of murder. To the extent that any group of people are swayed by the emotional impression someone makes on them, this may not have been a wise bit of self expression.

  10. ""He looked like an outlaw," and "was instantly judged the minute he walked into the courtroom," she says."

    But... they judged correctly.

  11. Interesting arguments pro and con. My question is: what is the purpose of imprisonment for life? Think about it.

    How does it support justice better than killing a killer? How does it protect the community better than killing a killer? Who should pay for it and why?

    1. For me the biggest argument against the death penalty is that sometimes they get it wrong. Then the state is a murderer and there's no death penalty for the state.
      Falsely imprisoning someone is also a terrible thing, but at least there is the possibility of restitution.
      I suppose it depends on how tolerant you are of the risk of someone being wrongly executed.

      1. The state, being composed and comprised of fallible humans wielding the power of life and death, is always and inevitably a murderer. That is an argument for a minimal state, so as to minimize the murder. It is not an argument against killing people who have well and truly earned it.

        There is no such thing as a pacifist state. Someone always ends up doing the killing.

        1. I agree with all that.

      2. The question is not whether somebody should live or die but whether government should be involved in it.

    2. Criminal courts shouldn't be about justice. They should be about protecting people from violence. People kill for lots of reasons and many killers won't necessarily kill again, especially if they are given a chance to rehabilitate in prison. Many killers, of course, are irredeemable, but we have no good way of identifying them a priori. So why not put them all in prison and see what happens. Even with no chance for parole some will rehabilitate and contribute to society.

      Civil courts should be about justice. If someone kills a father, they should have to pay the family he left behind. The killer rarely has anything worth any value, but if you give the killer a chance to rehabilitate at least there's a chance.

      1. There is that but once we eliminate the death penalty for life soon they will want to eliminate life sentences as well and who's to say that those given life sentences won't also tie up courts in appeals just like those on death row do now, which is one of the reasons used to eliminate the death sentence

      2. That’s just totally and completely wrong. Even non-violent burglars and swindlers should be in jail.

        So why not put them all in prison and see what happens

        You mean, see if they kill a guard or a fellow-prisoner? See if they manage to escape?

  12. Barr said the government owes "it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,"

    Maybe he should stop with that bullshit and just say that it's what the jury decided and what the law demands. Saying it's for the victims' families opens it right up for this kind of argument.

    1. Speaking as someone who views the law specifically violated as being just then I count myself as a victim.

      Albeit a distant one.

      1. Yes. Punishing people for murder is for the benefit of all society, not to help close victims feel better.

  13. Let's look at it this way - the family has for twenty years gotten used to the idea of this guy being in prison. Now they've suddenly discovered that after holding him for 20 years they're going to kill him.

    I wonder what they would have said if the execution was scheduled, say, a year and a half after the conviction?

    When this fellow got his death sentence

    -Bill Clinton was being impeached or just recovering from his impeachment

    -TLC's "No Scrubs" was on the Top 10

    -Gene Siskel died

    -Many of today's woke campus socialists were still in the womb

    I don't know their situation, but maybe the family just got used to the killer being in prison.

    1. Woke campus socialist *voters.*

      1. (Woke campus pro-choice socialist voters)

  14. Never give the state the power of execution.

  15. I wonder if Earlene Peterson is willing to take personal responsibility if Lee murders a CO or inmate while he is serving his life sentence in a low security institution? Or if he escapes and does the same?

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