The federal government has been given the go-ahead to carry out the first execution since 2003 after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction that had been put in place last week.
Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 4 p.m. Monday at a federal prison in Indiana. He was sentenced to the death penalty in 1996 in Arkansas for the killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
Lee's scheduled execution is the first in nearly two decades comes after a judge lifted an injunction put in place last week after the victims' family argued they faced a high risk of catching the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend the execution.
However, the federal appeals court lifted the injunction and said it will allow the federal government to carry out Lee's execution, as well as two others that have been scheduled for later this week.
Attorney General William Barr last week told the Associated Press that the Justice Department had a duty to carry out sentences that have been imposed by courts in order to bring a sense of closure to the victims and the community where the killings happened.
However, relatives of the victims told NBC News that they want to be present to counter any idea that it was being don 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.
In filing the injunction last week, the families expressed concerns over the coronavirus, saying they would need to travel thousands of miles and witness the execution in a small room where social distancing is virtually impossible. The Terre Haute prison where Lee is scheduled to be executed later today, has currently confirmed at least four coronavirus cases among inmates there. At least one inmate has died from the virus.
“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.
However, Barr says the Bureau of Prisons will be able to carry out the executions while reducing the risk of catching the virus. The department reportedly added several measures, including temperature checks and requirements for witnesses to wear masks.
Three inmates are scheduled to be executed this week, ending the informal moratorium on federal capital punishment. A fourth inmate is scheduled for execution in August.
The last person the federal government put to death was Louis Jones in 2003, who was convicted for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier. In 2014, President Barack Obama ordered a broad review of federal capital punishment and the issues surrounding the drugs used for lethal injections after an execution in Oklahoma went wrong.
Barr says the Justice Department completed their review and he has approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug cocktail that was previously used. Now, pentobarital, will be used instead, following examples set by Georgia, Missouri and Texas.
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