Judge postpones execution of inmate who was set to be first federal prisoner put to death in 17 years

In a Friday filing — just three days ahead of Lee’s Monday execution date — Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, of the Southern District of Indiana, sided with the household of Lee’s victims, who had pleaded for a delay given the coronavirus pandemic.

Lee’s death was expected to usher in a fresh era for the death penalty in the United States, and three other men convicted for murdering children were slated to be killed in the coming weeks. The court’s order is a blow for the Trump administration, which announced last July that it could reinstate the federal death penalty following a nearly two-decade lapse. Attorney General William Barr first announced the death penalty was being revived this past year — President Donald Trump had taken on the problem and called to “bring back the death penalty” — and set execution dates for Lee and four other men.
Lee, a one-time white supremacist who killed a household of three, had originally been scheduled for execution in December, but his case was delayed following the courts blocked the death sentence from being performed.
Earlene Peterson — whose daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law were tortured, killed and dumped in a lake by Lee and an accomplice — has opposed Lee’s execution, telling CNN this past year that she did not want to buy done in her name.

Peterson, 81, and other members of the family had filed suit on Tuesday, asking the Indianapolis court to delay the execution because they’re medically susceptible to the herpes virus and arguing that traveling to Indiana to witness the execution would place them “at grave risk of life-threatening complications from COVID-19.”

In a statement Friday after the ruling, an attorney for Peterson and the other members of the family said they “are grateful to the court for this ruling, which will enable them to exercise their right to attend the execution in the future while protecting themselves against the ravages of COVID-19.”

“The family is hopeful that the federal government will support them by not appealing today’s ruling, a reversal of which would put them back in the untenable position of choosing between attending the execution at great risk to their health and safety, or forgoing this event they have long wanted to be present for,” the attorney, Baker Kurrus, said. “We hope the government finally acts in a way to ease, rather than increase, the burdens of Mrs. Peterson and her family who have already been through an unspeakable tragedy.”

Lee’s scheduled execution was long anticipated to the be as soon as that the federal government once again began fulfilling the fate of inmates sentenced to die after a series of court decisions in the last many months.

In December, the Supreme Court upheld a lesser court blocking the death sentence from being performed last year. But an appeals court decided in April that the executions could move forward, and Barr set new dates for Lee and three other men in June. Since then, lawyers for the men have made several last-ditch efforts to delay the executions, like the lawsuit that was filed this week by the household of Lee’s victims.

The three other federal inmates ordered to be executed in the days and weeks that follow are Wesley Ira Purkey for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl; Dustin Lee Honken, for shooting and killing five people, including two girls; and Keith Dwayne Nelson for kidnapping, raping and strangling to death a 10-year-old girl.

Only three federal inmates have now been executed in the United States considering that the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 following a 16-year moratorium. Louis Jones, a Gulf War veteran, was the final federal inmate executed in March 2003 for the kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.

Source link