Yesterday at 8:07 a.m., the federal government murdered Daniel Lewis Lee at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana in the first federal execution in 17 years after Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to resume capital punishment last July (here are my thoughts on executing people who are guilty of harm). His last words were “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer. You’re killing an innocent man.” While Lee’s execution was originally scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m., a federal court ruled that he had the right to challenge the lethal injection drug process and constitutionality as the drugs were found to cause extreme pain and distress. However, at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the government should proceed with the execution. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg collaboratively wrote in their dissenting opinion “the resumption of federal executions promises to provide examples that illustrate the difficulties of administering the death penalty consistent with the Constitution. … The solution may be for this Court to directly examine the question whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” Within the four hours that the government made their final decisions considering the killing of Daniel Lewis Lee, his attorney, Ruth Friedman, said Lee was strapped to a gurney “a mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government’s urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed.” Daniel Lewis Lee was murdered alone without notifying Friedman or the families of the victims who passionately urged against his execution.
According to an article by the Equal Justice Initiative, the families of Nancy, William, and 8-year-old Sarah Mueller—the victims—vehemently opposed Daniel Lewis Lee receiving the death penalty, and the lead prosecutor and trial judge in the case expressed concern over the final sentencing. EJI reports “former Assistant United States Attorney Dan Stripling wrote in 2014 that he believed in capital punishment, but was disturbed by the randomness of its imposition. Mr. Lee’s death sentence, he wrote, ‘perfectly illustrates this inexplicable randomness.’ …And Judge G. Thomas Eisele wrote in 2015 that he had second-guessed his decisions ever since and was left ‘with the firm conviction that justice was not served in this particular case, solely with regard to the sentence of death imposed on Daniel Lewis Lee.'” The Indianapolis Star’s Tim Evans reported that Lee was read a death warrant, which allows the government to kill a person, but his expired at midnight and the BOP refused to confirm if they obtained a current one.
In The Appeal’s report on the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, writer Lauren Gill wrote “the BOP announced Lee’s death in a statement this morning, writing that he had killed an 8-year-old girl and her parents in 1996, though there was testimony from the government’s witnesses at trial that his co-defendant, Chevie Kehoe, had killed the child. Kehoe, who prosecutors described as the ringleader who had planned the killings to promote and fund a white separatist organization, was sentenced to life without parole. Lee has since renounced his ties to that movement. He has always said he is innocent.” Last week, U.S. District Judge Lee P. Rudofksy denied a request from Lee’s legal team to compare his DNA from a hair connected to the murders with other suspects in the case. Lee was also labeled a psychopath based on an unreliable and inaccurate psychological checklist that has never been used since his sentencing. Even after the victims’ families begged the federal government to stop Lee’s execution or at least schedule it after the pandemic ceases so they could be present, the Department of Justice dismissed their requests as “frivolous” and went ahead with the murder anyway. After Daniel Lewis Lee was injected with poisons and killed, Barr said “Today, Lee finally faced the justice he deserved. The American people have made the considered choice to permit capital punishment for the most egregious federal crimes, and justice was done today in implementing the sentence for Lee’s horrific offenses.” Friedman, Nancy, William, and Sarah’s families were not present.