The U.S. government on Tuesday carried out the first federal execution in almost two decades, putting to death a man who killed an Arkansas family in a 1990s in a plot to build a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest. The execution came over the objection of the victims’ family.
Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, of Yukon, Oklahoma, died by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The execution of Lee, who was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. EDT, went off after a series of legal volleys that ended when the Supreme Court stepped in early Tuesday in a 5-4 ruling and allowed it to move forward.
Attorney General William Barr has 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 in 1996 strongly opposed that idea and long argued that Lee deserved a sentence of life in prison. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that the execution 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,”’ relative Monica Veillette said.
They noted that Lee’s co-defendant and the reputed ringleader, Chevie Kehoe, received a life sentence.
Kehoe, of Colville, Washington, recruited Lee in 1995 to join his white supremacist organization, known as the Aryan Peoples’ Republic. Two years later, they were arrested for the killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, in Tilly, Arkansas, about 120 kilometres northwest of Little Rock.
At their 1999 trial, prosecutors said Kehoe and Lee stole guns and $50,000 in cash from the Muellers as part of their plan to establish a whites-only nation.
Prosecutors said Lee and Kehoe incapacitated the Muellers and questioned Sarah about where they could find money and ammunition. Then, they used stun guns on the victims, sealed trash bags with duct tape on their heads to suffocate them, taped rocks to their bodies and dumped them in a nearby bayou.
Two other federal executions are scheduled for later this week, though one is on hold in a separate legal claim.
There have been two state executions in the U.S. since the pandemic forced shutdowns nationwide in mid-March _ one in Texas and one in Missouri, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Alabama carried out one in early March.
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 hadn’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.
Numbers of state executions have fallen steadily since the last federal execution, according to data compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center. States put to death 59 people in 2004 and 22 in 2019, nine of which were in Texas.