By: Keith Klein (Photo: Associated Press/WRTV)
A U.S. district judge, yesterday, just hours before the first lethal injection was scheduled to be carried out at the federal prison in Terre Haute, ordered a new delay in federal executions.
Judge Tanya Chutkan said there are still legal issues to resolve and that “the public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process.” The executions would be the first at the federal level since 2003. The Justice Department is certain to ask a higher court to allow the executions to move forward.
On Sunday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the first federal execution in nearly two decades could proceed as scheduled yesterday.
The ruling overturned a lower court order that had put the execution of 47-year-old Daniel Lewis Lee on hold because of coronavirus concerns.
The injunction by an Indiana judge put Lee’s execution on hold until there was no longer a health emergency.
The Justice Department argued that the lower court judge’s order misconstrued the law and asked the appeals court to immediately overturn the ruling, which the appeals court did.
Lee is one of three federal prisoners scheduled to be executed this week at the Terre Haute facility. Another is scheduled for August.
“The idea that we’re about to execute three people in a week is just about as callous as I can imagine,” said Federal Public Defender Monica Foster.
“Since it’s been 17 years, all the people who have been on death row have not had the need to go to the courts and litigate new factors,” explained Federal Defense Attorney John Tompkins. “There are almost certainly new factors that have developed over the last 17 years that they need a fresh opportunity to present to the courts to determine if it’s appropriate to stay these executions.”
I will guarantee you there are teams of federal defenders who are looking for any legitimate reason to stay the execution and litigate the new factors.”
Lee was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Sarah.
The family of the victims has been fighting for years against Lee’s death sentence, saying they’d rather he be given a life sentence instead.