Judge blocks federal executions; administration will appeal

Federal Executions

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP/WTWO/WAWV) – A U.S. district judge on Monday ordered a new delay in federal executions, hours before the first lethal injection was scheduled to be carried out at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The administration is certain to ask a higher court to allow the executions to move forward.

U.S. District 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, pushed by the Trump administration, would be the first carried out at the federal level since 2003.

The new hold on executions came a day after a federal appeals court lifted a hold on the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, which was scheduled for 4 p.m. EDT on Monday at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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.

His victims’ family members and a Catholic Bishop were among local, state and national groups who gathered Monday at press conference to denounce the executions.

“The timing of these execution dates and the insistence on going forward despite the pandemic leads us to conclude that these executions are nothing more than a political stunt intended to stoke the political base of Donald Trump as he runs for re-election,” Abraham Bonowitz, co-director of Death Penalty Action, a national organization mobilizing opposition to federal executions, said. “They say this is for the victim’s families when the victims family in the case of Daniel Lee have begged the president to show mercy on their behalf. How tone-deaf can they be? We can do better for murder victim family members, be safe from dangerous individuals and hold them accountable without wasting taxpayer dollars on a system fraught with disparity and error.” 

The press conference was still going on when they learned the executions had once again been halted.

The group erupted in cheer; however, they noted back-and-forth decisions like this happen all of the time.

They planned to continue to protest throughout the day.

The Bureau of Prisons continued with preparations in order to move forward should the stay be lifted.

Lee has had access to social visitors, has visited with his spiritual adviser and has been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. He’s been under constant staff supervision. The witnesses for Lee are expected to include three family members, his lawyers and spiritual adviser.

Media witnesses the execution, including WTWO/WAWV’s own Dana Winklepleck, made their way to the prison at 2 p.m. Monday in case a decision was made to proceed with the executions.

After arriving at the prison, Winklepleck said she went through two police checkpoints before being allowed into the media center. Once at the media center, she was checked for fever and was given a mask.

The media witnesses were taken to the execution chamber by van, and will be required to stay inside the vehicle until they find out if the execution will move forward.

Lee was allowed up to six people to witness his execution. Details on who, if anyone, he requested were not immediately clear.

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