First fed­eral ex­e­cu­tion in 17 years car­ried out

Antelope Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL BALSAMO As­so­ci­ated Press

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment on Tues­day car­ried out its first ex­e­cu­tion in al­most two decades, killing by lethal in­jec­tion a man con­victed of mur­der­ing an Arkansas fam­ily in a 1990s plot to build a whites-only na­tion in the Pa­cific North­west.

The ex­e­cu­tion of Daniel Lewis Lee came over the ob­jec­tion of the vic­tims’ rel­a­tives and fol­low­ing days of le­gal de­lays, re­viv­ing the de­bate over cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment dur­ing a time of wide­spread so­cial un­rest. And the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­ceed with ex­e­cu­tions added a new chap­ter to the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form in the lead-up to the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Just be­fore he died at the fed­eral prison in Terre Haute, In­di­ana, Lee, pro­fessed his in­no­cence.

“I’ve made a lot of mis­takes in my life, but I’m not a mur­derer.” said Lee, 47, of Yukon, Ok­la­homa. “You’re killing an in­no­cent man.”

The gov­ern­ment is sched­uled to ex­e­cute two more men this week, in­clud­ing Wes­ley Ira Purkey on Wed­nes­day for the killing of a Kansas City teenager in 1998. But le­gal ex­perts say the 68-year-old Purkey, who suf­fers from de­men­tia, has a greater chance of avoid­ing that fate be­cause of his men­tal state.

The de­ci­sion by the Bureau of Pris­ons to move for­ward with ex­e­cu­tions — the first since 2003 — has drawn scru­tiny from civil rights groups and the wider pub­lic. Rel­a­tives of Lee’s vic­tims sued to try to halt it, cit­ing con­cerns about the Coro­n­avirus pan­demic, which has killed more than 135,000 peo­ple in the United States and is rav­aging pris­ons na­tion­wide.

Crit­ics ar­gued the gov­ern­ment was cre­at­ing a man­u­fac­tured ur­gency for po­lit­i­cal gain. One of Lee’s lawyers, Ruth Fried­man, said it was “be­yond shame­ful that the gov­ern­ment, in the end, car­ried out this ex­e­cu­tion in haste.”

But At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr said, “Lee fi­nally faced the jus­tice he de­served. The Amer­i­can peo­ple have made the con­sid­ered choice to per­mit cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment for the most egre­gious fed­eral crimes, and jus­tice was done today in im­ple­ment­ing the sen­tence for Lee’s hor­rific of­fenses.”

Barr had said ear­lier that the Jus­tice Depart­ment had a duty to carry out the sen­tences, partly to pro­vide clo­sure to the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies and oth­ers in the com­mu­ni­ties where the killings hap­pened.

How­ever, rel­a­tives of those killed by Lee in 1996 ar­gued he de­served life in prison rather than ex­e­cu­tion. They wanted to be present to counter any con­tention the ex­e­cu­tion was be­ing done on their be­half but said con­cern about the Coro­n­avirus kept them away.

Lee’s lawyers tried mul­ti­ple ap­peals to halt the ex­e­cu­tion, but ul­ti­mately the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 early Tues­day that it could move for­ward. He died at 8:07 a.m. EDT.

The vic­tims’ rel­a­tives noted Lee’s co-de­fen­dant and the re­puted ring­leader, Che­vie Ke­hoe, re­ceived a life sen­tence.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Oct. 31, 1997 file photo, Daniel Lewis Lee waits for his ar­raign­ment hear­ing for mur­der in the Pope County De­ten­tion Cen­ter in Rus­sel­lville, Ark.

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