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Feds to execute 1st inmate in 17 years for Arkansas murders

He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell. The execution, the first of a federal death row inmate since 2003, comes after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction on Sunday that had been put in place last week after the victims' family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend the execution.

PTI | Terre Haute | Updated: 13-07-2020 17:32 IST | Created: 13-07-2020 17:24 IST
Feds to execute 1st inmate in 17 years for Arkansas murders
Representative Image Image Credit: : PxHere

The federal government is planning to carry out the first federal execution in nearly two decades on Monday, over the objection of the family of the victims and after a volley of legal proceedings over the coronavirus pandemic. Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 4 p.m. on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana. He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

The execution, the first of a federal death row inmate since 2003, comes after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction on Sunday that had been put in place last week after the victims' family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend the execution. The family had vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. The decision to move forward with the execution and two others scheduled later in the week during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and is ravaging prisons nationwide, drew scrutiny from civil rights groups and the family of Lee's victims.

The decision has been criticized as a dangerous and political move. Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that isn't high on the list of American concerns right now. It is also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department has a duty to carry out the sentences imposed by the courts, including the death penalty, and to bring a sense of closure to the victims and those in the communities where the killings happened.

But relatives of those killed by Lee strongly oppose that idea. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that it was being done on their behalf. "For us, it is a matter of being there and saying, `This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'" said relative Monica Veillette.

The relatives would be traveling thousands of miles and witnessing the execution in a small room where the social distancing recommended to prevent the virus' spread is virtually impossible. The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the exploding number of coronavirus cases behind bars. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.

"The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee's execution and their own health and safety," the family's attorney, Baker Kurrus, said Sunday. Barr said he believes the Bureau of Prisons could "carry out these executions without being at risk." The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

On Sunday, the Justice Department disclosed that a staff member involved in preparing for the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said he had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialized team sent to the prison to handle the execution. The victim's family hopes there won't be an execution, ever. They have asked the Justice Department and President Donald Trump not to move forward with the execution and have long asked that he be given a life sentence instead.


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