Death Penalty

Judge Delays First Federal Execution in 17 Years Due to Coronavirus Fears

Relatives of the victims say they shouldn’t have to risk infection to attend. A federal judge agreed.

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Daniel Lewis Lee is scheduled to be the first federal prisoner executed in 17 years on Monday, but this afternoon a federal judge put a temporary halt to it due to COVID-19 infection fears.

The judge is not concerned that Lee might get infected. Rather, the scheduling of his execution is being challenged by relatives of his victims. They have sued the Department of Justice to temporarily halt the execution because, while they are permitted to attend Lee's execution, they are concerned that they risk coronavirus infection by traveling across the country from where they live to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Lee is incarcerated and will be executed. They argue the federal government cannot guarantee they will not be exposed to COVID-19.

Lee was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering a family of three in 1999—William Mueller, Nancy Mueller, and their 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Mueller—and dumping them in an Arkansas bayou. He has been sitting on death row for years because the federal government stopped executing prisoners back in 2003. Attorney General William Barr announced last year that he was restarting federal executions. Lee is scheduled to be the first.

But members of the victims' family actually oppose Lee's execution and want to see him remain in prison instead. The man who allegedly masterminded this crime, Chevie Kehoe, was sentenced to life in prison, and they believe Lee should get the same punishment.

An attempt to get the Supreme Court to intervene in these upcoming planned executions recently failed. But the relatives had another claim they were pushing. Under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, when the federal government executes a prisoner, they must follow the statutory guidelines of the state where the inmate was sentenced to death. And Arkansas law requires that direct relatives of the victims "shall be present" at the execution if they wish to attend, unless the state can prove any of those relatives are a security risk.

Three relatives of the victims—Earlene Peterson (Nancy's mother and Sarah's grandmother), Kimma Gurel (Nancy's sister), and Monica Veillete (Nancy's niece) say they fall under this category, and therefore they must be allowed to attend. But they also say it's dangerous to do so because of the potential COVID-19 infection dangers (Peterson is 81 and has congestive heart failure, putting her in a higher risk category). They asked a federal judge to delay Lee's execution.

This afternoon, Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana agreed. She writes, "In this case, the public's interest in a prompt, orderly execution should give way to their interest in treating Ms. Peterson, Ms. Gurel, and Ms. Veillette with fairness, respect, and dignity." She enjoined the Department of Justice from carrying out Lee's execution Monday and will keep the injunction in place until the government can show that they can execute Lee while still allowing the family to attend safely.

Assuming this injunction holds through Monday, Wesley Ira Purkey is the next federal prisoner set for execution on Wednesday. Purkey's spiritual advisor, a Buddhist priest, is suing for a similar delay because he, too, claims that he is at risk of COVID-19 infection should he attempt to visit Purkey.

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  1. Well, that’s a clever way to stop the execution.

    1. I’m generally against the death penalty, but the rationale here is stupid and speaks to the probable biases of a judge looking for an excuse. If covid testing and mask are good enough for nearly everything else, they are good enough for the 2-minute encounter that the parties would have in the adjacent room, fully protected in PPE.

      The only excuse dumber than this is that POC aren’t as capable as white people of getting a state ID to vote.

      1. Agreed. I’m against the death penalty in almost all cases. But “I have a right to attend” is not the same as “I have a right to have the execution postponed indefinitely so I can attend”. Attend or don’t. Argue for repeal of the death penalty, or a commutation of sentence. But don’t do this.

        1. Why not though? It’s perfect timing with all the other reform going on – maybe they can start a national conversation to get death sentences removed from our justice system altogether.

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        2. I’m for the death penalty as long as the conviction wasn’t based in any circumstantial evidence. There are plenty of people that should be ended. Ted Bundt, John Gary, Dahmer, etc..

    2. So you are telling me the headline and the entire premise of the article is a lie IB paragraph 4

  2. Never give the state the power of execution.

    1. Never give the state the power of anything. Including shutting down the economy for a disease that kills less than 0.5% of the population,

      1. What if I told you that 0.5% can be a very large number?

        1. I am sure that if the government offered to pay Art a mere 0.001% of $1 trillion, he would turn it down, since 0.001% is such a small number and not worth his time.

        2. US population at the end of January (est) 329,227,746.
          0.5% = 1,646,138
          Actual deaths (CDC today) 132,855.
          Move the decimal point a bit, please.

        3. You’d get a demerit for spreading fake news.

    2. Agreed, the state murders enough people as it is.

      1. And yet you’re still breathing. Canada really is soft.

    3. Even better: never give the state the power to save people.

  3. Live stream it on facebook or zoom.

    1. The Arkansas law says that the victims’ relatives “shall be present”. Zoom won’t cut it.

      1. You stated above you like clever exploitation of the law.

        Present
        4a: to offer to view : SHOW
        b: to bring to one’s attention
        This presents a problem.

        If you want to use as an adjective.

        2a: being in view or at hand

        In view is covered.

        Or as noun.

        1: the present time

        https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/present

        No matter what form of the word you use there is no a requirement to be locale or relatively close to the event.

        Care to try again?

        1. Well, then it is too bad for them that the state didn’t make that type of argument.

          https://law.justia.com/codes/arkansas/2018/title-16/subtitle-6/chapter-90/subchapter-5/section-16-90-502/

          If you take a look at the Arkansas code, it is extremely deferential to the victims.

          Here is what it says in relevant part:

          (e) (1) An execution of a person convicted in this state of a capital offense and sentenced to death shall be private. However, the following persons shall be present:

          […]

          (C) No more than six (6) of the following persons related to a victim of the crime for which the person is being executed if he or she chooses to be present:

          (i) A spouse;

          (ii) Any parent or stepparent;

          (iii) Any adult sibling or stepsibling; and

          (iv) Any adult child or stepchild;

          So the family members shall be present.

          And then later on:

          (5)

          (A) A closed-circuit audiovisual monitor dedicated to viewing a live broadcast of the execution shall be placed in a location chosen by the director for the benefit of any close relative of the victim or any surviving innocent victim who desires to view the execution and who is not witnessing the execution as allowed under subdivision (e)(1)(C) of this section.

          So this section distinguishes between a “live broadcast” of the execution and one in which the witnesses are “present” such as in section (e)(1)(C). Zoom would be an example of a “live broadcast” and it’s only for the people who couldn’t be “present”. So a Zoom broadcast couldn’t simultaneously be for witnesses who were both “present” (by your clever reasoning) and also not “present” according to Arkansas law.

          1. The state didn’t make any arguments. This is a federal execution.

            Arkansas law is irrelevant. The execution is happening in Indidana.

            1. As I understand it, Federal executions are supposed to follow the protocol of the state in which the execution takes place.

      2. What’s Arkansas law got to do with it? This is a federal execution happening in Indiana.

        1. Please read the article.

          Under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, when the federal government executes a prisoner, they must follow the statutory guidelines of the state where the inmate was sentenced to death. And Arkansas law requires that direct relatives of the victims “shall be present” at the execution if they wish to attend, unless the state can prove any of those relatives are a security risk.

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  4. Interesting how Trump, who is eager to defer to the states on COVID-19, wants so badly to federalize executions.

    1. This has nothing to do with Trump federalizing executions.
      The Federal Government has long had it’s own death penalty.
      And them man being executed in this case was convicted on Federal charges (RICO charges in addition to the murders).

      1. To someone with Trump Derangement Syndrome, everything has to do with Trump. It’s not logical, it’s a mental illness.

    2. U.S. v. Lee

      A jury convicted Daniel Lewis Lee of conspiring to violate and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) and (d), and of three murders in aid of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959.

  5. They argue the federal government cannot guarantee they will not be exposed to COVID-19.

    Oh, FFS! The federal government cannot guarantee they will not be hit by a meteor, either.

    1. Oh sure, give them more ideas.

    2. Hey, I’ll guarantee they won’t be hit by a meteor while watching the execution. I’m prepared to give them $10 if they do; all they have to do is ask me for it if that happens.

  6. Victim’s relative stated: “I am now faced with an impossible choice of either not exercising my right to attend the execution, or traveling in dangerous conditions which could cause me to become very sick, or even die.”

    That’s not an impossible choice. It’s a regular choice. You’re making choices to be there or not be there in just about every aspect of your life right now. This is no different.

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  9. They can wear a “cloth face covering” and everything will be fine.
    The CDC says so.
    They can travel in a Private car.
    They will be with the people they travel with, not a gang of strangers.
    So we have one more piece of proof that the Communist Chinese Virus panic by government officials is just a great big excuse for fascism.

    1. Obama Judge, nuff said

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  11. Good thinking.
    It’s better to have a convict die a painful slow death from COV-19 than to die quickly and relatively painlessly.
    Gee, if America could only have more activist judges like this one, we would have more violent criminals in the streets plying their crafts and making the world a better place.

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  13. Ha! This execution will move forward today. The SOB murdered three people. Now he will meet Justice, and we can put this silly debacle behind us.

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