Judge blocks federal executions; administration appeals

FILE - In this March 17, 2003 photo, a guard tower flanks the sign at the entrance to the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The scheduled execution, the first of a federal death row inmate since 2003, was to be carried out 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.

Posted: Jul 13, 2020 10:49 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — 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 Indiana.

The Trump administration immediately appealed to a higher court, asking that the executions move forward.


Associated Press File Photo

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 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 is scheduled for 4 p.m. EDT on Monday at the federal prison in Terre Haute, 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 scheduled execution, the first of a federal death row inmate since 2003, was to be carried out 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.

It 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.

The three men scheduled to be executed this week had been scheduled to be put to death when Barr announced the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain. A fourth man is scheduled to be put to death in August.

The Justice Department had scheduled five executions set to begin in December, but some of the inmates challenged the new procedures in court, arguing that the government was circumventing proper methods in order to wrongly execute inmates quickly.

Executions on the federal level have been rare and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 — most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

Though there hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, the Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

The attorney general said last July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume.

He approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug combination previously used in federal executions with one drug, pentobarbital.

This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas, but not all.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1007681

Reported Deaths: 16470
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1355212121
Lake664101166
Allen57993801
Hamilton46350465
St. Joseph44397615
Elkhart35949510
Vanderburgh32251480
Tippecanoe27933260
Johnson25107445
Hendricks23897359
Porter22929365
Madison18748409
Clark18557252
Vigo17479303
Monroe15263200
LaPorte15173250
Delaware15073263
Howard14748290
Kosciusko12348148
Hancock11728176
Bartholomew11639180
Warrick11292189
Floyd11108215
Wayne10986253
Grant10082220
Morgan9472176
Boone8926115
Dubois8271131
Henry8229152
Dearborn822393
Noble8031106
Marshall7939135
Cass7546121
Lawrence7457171
Shelby7189119
Jackson698289
Gibson6597115
Harrison649192
Knox6421106
Huntington6395100
DeKalb632399
Montgomery6264111
Miami593398
Putnam581278
Clinton576171
Whitley565755
Steuben562576
Wabash5332104
Jasper532079
Jefferson511297
Ripley500586
Adams482576
Daviess4677114
Scott438974
Greene425196
Wells424888
Clay423360
White418764
Decatur4169102
Fayette406587
Jennings387361
Posey376644
Washington359151
LaGrange359078
Randolph3452100
Spencer340243
Fountain335760
Sullivan329452
Starke317171
Owen314771
Fulton312667
Orange293664
Jay284645
Franklin265643
Perry265452
Rush262432
Carroll261934
Vermillion258654
Parke231426
Pike229243
Tipton228159
Blackford193142
Pulaski183757
Crawford159823
Newton158348
Benton150617
Brown146747
Martin138719
Switzerland135011
Warren121116
Union107016
Ohio84613
Unassigned0540

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1519304

Reported Deaths: 23955
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1642651696
Cuyahoga1464072459
Hamilton1053661431
Montgomery740661279
Summit617841111
Lucas56338917
Butler51580718
Stark466811064
Lorain35628585
Warren32836377
Mahoning30787693
Clermont28193330
Lake27063448
Delaware24208164
Licking23939294
Trumbull22885561
Fairfield22395247
Greene22350326
Medina22047313
Clark19863354
Richland18586292
Portage17978252
Wood17454224
Allen16001279
Miami15582306
Muskingum14831185
Columbiana14080274
Wayne13791271
Tuscarawas12724311
Marion11976180
Scioto11469162
Pickaway11373142
Erie10904184
Ross10586203
Lawrence9759153
Ashtabula9741204
Hancock9707155
Belmont9309209
Geauga8965157
Jefferson8567199
Huron8404143
Union819859
Washington8093144
Sandusky7827151
Athens777779
Knox7739144
Darke7689158
Seneca7372145
Ashland6967130
Auglaize679799
Shelby6530115
Brown636491
Crawford6274130
Defiance6218105
Mercer616493
Fulton602896
Highland600499
Madison594578
Guernsey593071
Logan591096
Clinton583793
Preble5720125
Putnam5335110
Williams529288
Perry518363
Champaign513173
Jackson510273
Ottawa488586
Coshocton484683
Morrow458858
Pike434367
Fayette429263
Hardin419480
Gallia418467
Adams417195
Van Wert372382
Henry365372
Holmes3642125
Hocking356782
Wyandot324662
Carroll302365
Paulding280347
Meigs265851
Monroe216254
Noble200347
Morgan194033
Harrison182146
Vinton166625
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 51°
Angola
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 41°
Huntington
Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 51°
Decatur
Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 51°
Van Wert
Cloudy
56° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 56°
Showers on tap for Sunday with the chance of a few thunderstorms.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events