The Justice Department plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that would halt authorities from carrying out the first federal execution in nearly two decades.
The family of the victims in the case had requested that it be called off because their fear of the coronavirus would keep them from attending.
Their objection could postpone the execution indefinitely.
Daniel Lee, 47, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday. Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
But Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Friday that the execution would be put on hold due to the family’s concern about the pandemic.
About an hour after the judge’s ruling, the Justice Department filed its notice to appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and filed court papers asking the district judge to stay the order pending the appeal.
The 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, includes Indiana, which is where the execution was to take place at the federal prison in Terre Haute.
The Justice Department argues that it is likely to win an appeal.
It contends that executions require extensive planning and coordination with other law enforcement officials and says dozens of staff members were already being brought in from other facilities ahead of Monday’s planned execution.
“These preparations cannot easily be undone,” the filing says.
Relatives of those killed by Lee have spoken against the execution.
“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.
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week, Barr said he believed the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these execution without being at risk.”
The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.
There are currently four confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.
Lee’s attorneys also sought the delay on grounds that they’ve been forced to choose between their own health and adequately defending their client.
The executions appeared set to happen after the Supreme Court declined to block them.
It’s not clear what will happen with the other scheduled executions, which are scheduled next week for Wednesday and Friday.
Wesley Ira Purkey, of Kansas, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and killed an 80-year-old woman, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.
Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people in Iowa, including two children, is scheduled to be executed Friday.
Keith Dwayne Nelson, scheduled to be executed in August, was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl while she was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home, raping her in a forest behind a church and then strangling her.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.