( Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge obstructed the first execution of a federal detainee in 17 years from being performed on Monday after some of the victims’ relatives sued, stating they feared that attending could expose them to COVID-19
Daniel Lewis Lee was convicted together with another man for his role in the murders of 3 members of an Arkansas household in1996 Some family members of his victims opposed him getting the death sentence.
Those relatives stated they however had a right to attend the execution if it happened, and took legal action against the Department of Justice in the U.S. district court in Indianapolis to block the execution till the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson issued an injunction on Friday ordering the Justice Department to postpone the execution until it can show it is observing the right of the victims’ relatives to attend without a threat to their health.
The Justice Department filed a notification in the Indianapolis court that it would appeal the injunction.
Earlene Peterson, whose daughter Nancy Mueller and 8-year-old granddaughter Sarah Powell were killed by Lee and a co-conspirator, had actually told the court she faced “the impossible option of either not exercising my right to go to the execution, or traveling in hazardous conditions which could trigger me to end up being extremely sick, or perhaps pass away.”
Baker Kurrus, an attorney for Peterson and two other loved ones, said in a statement they were grateful for the ruling.
” We hope the federal government finally acts in a way to relieve, rather than boost, the burdens of Mrs. Peterson and her family who have currently been through an offensive catastrophe,” Kurrus stated in a declaration.
The Justice Department stated it would not talk about ongoing lawsuits.
Chief Law Officer William Barr announced last July that the Justice Department would resume performing executions of some of the 62 inmates on federal death row.
He initially set up five executions for last December, however was bought to postpone them by a federal judge in Washington while long-running claims challenging the federal government’s lethal-injection procedure played out.
An appeals court reversed that injunction in April, and Barr revealed new execution dates for July and August of four prisoners, all men convicted murdering children: Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken and Keith Nelson.
Purkey’s execution was scheduled for Wednesday, but a federal appeals court released a short-lived stay this month and it was unclear whether it would continue. Honken’s is set for Friday.
Lee’s death by lethal injections of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, had been set up for Monday at the Justice Department’s execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Sarah Lynch; Modifying by Sandra Maler, Matthew Lewis and David Gregorio