TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — The first execution in nearly two decades was carried out Tuesday in Terre Haute, Ind.
Daniel Lewis Lee was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
As he prepared to take his final breath, he looked at the media witnesses, including WTWO/WAWV’s own Dana Winklepleck, and admitted to doing many terrible things in his life; however, he maintained he did not kill the Mueller family.
“You killed an innocent man,” were his final words, according to Winklepleck.
He had been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT Monday. But a court order issued Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan temporarily prevented Lee’s execution.
A federal appeals court in Washington refused the administration’s plea to step in, leaving the hold in place, before the Supreme Court acted by a 5-4 vote. The execution was set to resume at 4 a.m. Tuesday.
The Department of Justice issued a written statement explaining the delay in the execution.
“A couple of hours ago, Mr. Lee’s counsel raised for the very first time a technical legal issue challenging our ability to go forward with the execution,” according to the statement. “Specifically, his counsel claimed that even though that court had issued a decision several weeks ago vacating the stay issued by a district court in Arkansas.”
The DOJ went on to say that out of an “abundance of caution,” they filed an emergency motion to expedite the issuance of a mandate,” and awaited a final court ruling before proceeding.
Winklepleck was at the prison most of the day on Monday awaiting the execution. Early Tuesday morning she was called back to the prison, and arrived shortly before 4 a.m.
She, and other media witnesses, first saw Lee around 7:45 a.m. He had been strapped to the gurney for roughly three hours by then, as the courts decided the legalities of the last minute appeal.
Lee was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. ET by the Vigo County Coroner. Winklepleck noted that the death looked peaceful.
Prior to his execution, Lee had access to social visitors, visited with his spiritual adviser and had been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said.
His spiritual advisor, described as an Appalachian Pagan Minister, remained with him during the appeals process. He also had three family members in attendance during the execution.
Two more executions are scheduled this week, Wesley Ira Purkey on Wednesday and Dustin Lee Honken on Friday. The BOP said Tuesday both executions are moving forward as scheduled.
A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.