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Virus Fears Delay 1st Federal Execution in 17 Years

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A federal judge in Indiana on Friday halted the first federal execution planned in 17 years.

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 that the execution would be put on hold because relatives of the victims wanted to attend but were afraid of traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The relatives, including Earlene Branch Peterson, who lost her daughter and granddaughter in the killing, had urged the federal government for months not to move forward with the death sentence.

They have pleaded for years that Lee instead should receive the same life sentence as the ringleader in the murders.

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“The harm to Ms. Peterson, for example, is being forced to choose whether being present for the execution of a man responsible for the death of her daughter and granddaughter is worth defying her doctor’s orders and risking her own life,” the judge wrote.

The court order applies only to Lee’s execution and does not halt two other executions that are scheduled for later next week.

Chevie Kehoe, whom prosecutors described as the ringleader in the deadly scheme, and Lee were arrested for the killings of the Muellers and Sarah in Tilly, Arkansas, about 75 miles northwest of Little Rock.

At their 1999 trial, prosecutors said Kehoe, of Colville, Washington, and Lee stole guns and $50,000 in cash from the Muellers.

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Lee’s attorneys cite evidence from his trial that Kehoe actually killed Sarah.

The executions appeared set to happen following a Supreme Court decision affirming the ruling. 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.

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