A US judge on Monday ordered a postponement of the first federal execution in the United States in 17 years, which is scheduled to take place later today.
Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, a former white supremacist convicted of the murder of a family of three in 1996, is scheduled to be executed Monday at 4:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) at Terre Haute prison in the Midwest state of Indiana.
But US district judge Tanya Chutkan has ordered a halt to Lee’s execution to allow for a legal challenge to the lethal injection protocols to kill him and other federal inmates.
“The public is not served by the bypass of a legitimate judicial process,” said Chutkan.
The Justice Department immediately appealed Chutkan’s order to a higher court, and the Supreme Court may have the final say in the matter within the next few hours.
Lee, from Yukon, Oklahoma, is believed to be the first federal inmate to be executed in the United States since 2003. There have only been three federal executions in the country since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1988.
Lee was convicted in Arkansas in 1999 of the murder of William Mueller, a gun dealer, his wife, Nancy, and his eight-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
Earlene Peterson, whose daughter and granddaughter were killed by Lee, asked President Donald Trump to grant leniency to the sentenced man, but he ignored his appeal.
Peterson and relatives of other victims also filed a lawsuit with an American district court in Indianapolis in an attempt to delay execution due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They argued that they would risk their lives if they went to Terre Haute to witness the execution of Lee.
A court of appeal dismissed the trial on Sunday, paving the way for execution.
Baker Kurrus, the family lawyer, said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The federal government has placed this family in an untenable position of choosing between their right to assist in the execution of Danny Lee and their own health and safety,” said Kurrus.
The Prisons Office said on Sunday that a member of the Terre Haute prison staff had tested positive for COVID-19.
“There is no reason for anyone to execute people right now because of the pandemic,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Dunham accused Trump of “political use of the death penalty”.
Trump, who faces a tough re-election battle in November, has called for an increased use of the death penalty, especially for police murderers and drug traffickers.
More than 1,000 American religious leaders urged Trump last week to abandon plans to resume federal executions.
Only a handful of American states, mainly in the conservative South, are still actively carrying out executions. In 2019, 22 people were killed.
Most crimes are tried under state law, but federal courts can try some of the most serious crimes – terrorist attacks, hate crimes and the like – as well as those committed on military bases and on Indian reserves.
Among the most notable recent federal executions is that of Timothy McVeigh, who was killed by lethal injection in 2001 for the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma which killed 168 people.
(This story has not been edited by GalacticGaming staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)