Individuals who oppose the death penalty gather outside the Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute, as a federal judge has momentarily prevented the execution Daniel Lewis Lee, who is convicted in the killing of three members of an Arkansas family in 1996, and would be the first federal execution in 17 years, in Terre Haute, Indiana, U.S. July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

A U.S. district judge ordered a stay on several executions on Monday, hours before the execution of Daniel Lee Lewis was set to take place. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said Monday that legal issues remained in the cases and noted that the drug intended for the execution “poses an unconstitutionally significant risk of serious pain.” The delay applies to all four planned federal executions for July and August. The Supreme Court previously rejected arguments against the use of a single drug in lethal injections on June 29, paving the way for federal executions to move forward.

The ruling came on different grounds from an original stay of the executions. On Friday, Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson decided the execution would be put on hold due to concerns about the coronavirus from the families of both the victims and Lewis. The victim’s family is notably against the death penalty but wants to exercise their right to be present. The Justice Department immediately filed an emergency appeal, which was upheld on Sunday by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court argued the victims had no federal or state rights to attend the execution, so the family’s claim “is therefore frivolous.” 

Concerns regarding spreading the coronavirus, especially in a prison, seemed to be confirmed Monday. According to court filings, one of the prison staff members helping to prepare for the execution tested positive for the coronavirus. The staffer did not always wear a mask while working. However, they did not enter the execution facilities or the prison’s command center, nor did they overlap their time at work with Bureau of Prisons employees who are in charge of “assembling the execution.”

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Execution of Daniel Lee can proceed, federal appeals court rules – Fox News – 7/12/2020
Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Friday in Indiana that the execution would be delayed because of concerns from the victims’ family about the coronavirus pandemic. The Justice Department (DOJ) argued that the judge’s order misconstrued the law and asked the appeals court to immediately overturn the ruling. The appeals court found that the claim from the victims’ family “lacks any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.”

Who is Daniel Lewis Lee? First federal inmate to be executed in 17 years – Newsweek – 7/13/2020
The injunction had been put in place after the relatives of Lee’s victims filed a lawsuit last week, arguing that traveling to witness it would put them at risk of contracting coronavirus. Earlene Peterson, Nancy Mueller’s mother and Sarah’s grandmother; Kimma Gurel, who is Nancy Mueller’s sister and Sarah’s aunt; and Monica Veillette, who is Nancy Mueller’s niece and Sarah’s cousin, are opposed to Lee’s execution, but want to exercise their right to witness it.

Federal appeals court overturns stay of execution amid coronavirus fears – The Washington Times – 7/13/2020
The family of Lee’s victims filed a petition to delay the execution saying they wanted to witness the execution but feared traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. A federal judge had granted their petition, but Sunday’s ruling overturned the stay. The family said they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. But the high court must act by 4:00 pm Monday to stop the execution.

Trump DOJ Worked Secretly to Obtain Drugs to Resume Federal Executions – Truthout – 7/11/2020
An explosive Reuters investigation revealed Friday that a series of executions the Trump administration has planned for next week “will mark the culmination of a three-year campaign to line up a secret supply chain to make and test lethal injection drugs.” […] Although it wasn’t until July 2019 when U.S. Attorney General William Barr publicly directed the Bureau of Prisons to resume capital punishment using only the drug pentobarbital—in lieu of a three-drug protocol that had been hampered by supply issues—Reuters reported that “President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice had started building the network of contractors it would need by May 2017.”

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

ACLU on Twitter, 7/13/2020: We haven’t had a federal execution in 17 years: There is absolutely no reason for the government to rush forward with such a reckless and dangerous plan.

Father Edward Beck on Twitter, 7/13/2020: Court Clears Way for First Federal Execution in 17 Years to Proceed TODAY. Several family members of Mr. Lee’s victims — including those who’d filed the lawsuit — have called for Justice Dept. to commute his sentence to life in prison. PRAYERS FOR ALL+

Charles Fain Lehman on Twitter, 7/13/2020:White supremacist and child-killer Daniel Lewis Lee’s execution is scheduled for 4 p.m. today. Several victims’ family members are seeking a SCOTUS stay, however, arguing that they are being denied their right to attend the execution by the COVID pandemic.

Steve Vladeck on Twitter, 7/13/2020: With the first federal execution since 2003 scheduled for this afternoon, Judge Chutkan has blocked all of them—to allow the prisoners time to perfect their claims. Indeed, as she notes, the 11th-hour nature of this litigation is hardly *their* fault.

Craig Caplan on Twitter, 7/13/2020: Federal judge Tanya Chutkan ruling in lethal injection executions case today was nominated by President Obama to be U.S. District Judge for DC and unanimously confirmed by Senate 95-0 six years ago last month.

Josh Gerstein on Twitter, 7/13/2020: NEW: Justice Dept lawyers scramble after judge blocks 1st federal execution in 17 years about 5 hours before it was to occur. Judge Tanya Chutkan said 1-drug method could cause inmates needless suffering. One alternative she said may be better: firing squad

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