The first execution by the federal government in nearly 17 years was carried out early Tuesday morning at a Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana, despite a flurry of last-minute legal challenges.
Daniel Lewis Lee was executed following a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the execution to proceed over objections by the victims’ families.
“I didn’t do it,” Lee said before he was executed. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer. … You’re killing an innocent man.”
Lee was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1996 crime spree that included the murders of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
Lee was initially scheduled to receive a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 4 p.m. Monday, but a federal judge issued a stay, preventing the execution. However, a few hours after the federal judge’s order, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned majority opinion that found the plaintiffs had not established they would be able to succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment challenge and that their claim “faces an exceedingly high bar.” The majority opinion says all four executions scheduled at the prison in Terre Haute, will be allowed to proceed as planned.
The plaintiffs filed an objection, citing Eighth Amendment claims, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
Lee’s execution was the first by the Federal Bureau of Prisons since 2003. In 2014, then President Barack Obama ordered a broad review of federal capital punishment and the issues surrounding the drugs used for lethal injection executions after one execution went wrong in Oklahoma.
The informal moratorium on executions was put aside last month after Attorney General William Barr said the review had been completed and he had approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaced the three-drug cocktail that had been previously used.
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