The defense team for a man executed in Terre Haute on Tuesday morning in the first federal death sentence carried out in nearly two decades blasted what they called a “shameful” middle-of-the-night process that they contend should awaken public outrage.
Daniel Lewis Lee was executed at the Terre Haute federal prison after multiple last-minute appeals. He was convicted in the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, in Tilly, Arkansas, about 75 miles northwest of Little Rock.
However, family members of the victims unsuccessfully appealed for Lee’s death sentence to be converted to a life sentence, comparable to the ringleader in the killings that the family said was more culpable yet was sentenced to life in prison.
Lee’s attorney, Ruth Friedman, who also directs the Federal Capital Habeas Project, issued the following statement after Lee’s execution:
“It is important for everyone to understand exactly what happened last night to our client, Daniel Lewis Lee. At 2 a.m. July 14, while the country was sleeping, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision vacating the injunction that had been in place against the first federal execution in 17 years. Within minutes, the Department of Justice moved to reset Danny Lee’s execution — for 4 a.m., summoning media and witnesses back to the prison in the very middle of the night. When it was brought to the government’s attention that a court stay still remained in place, the DOJ first maintained that that stay presented no legal impediment to executing Danny Lee, but then filed an ‘emergency’ motion to lift the stay.
“Over the four hours it took for this reckless and relentless government to pursue these ends, Daniel Lewis Lee remained strapped to a gurney: a mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government’s urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed.
“It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution during a pandemic. It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution when counsel for Danny Lee could not be present with him, and when the judges in his case and even the family of his victims urged against it. And it is beyond shameful that the government, in the end, carried out this execution in haste, in the middle of the night, while the country was sleeping. We hope that upon awakening, the country will be as outraged as we are.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.