Justice Department Tangles with Judges Over First Federal Execution in 17 Years
At 4 p.m. Eastern Time today, Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection for the 1996 murder of a family of three. His would be the first federal execution since 2003, but wrangling between the Justice Department and the courts has put the scheduling in doubt.
On Friday, a federal judge in Indiana issued a temporary injunction stopping Lee’s execution. She was responding to a lawsuit filed by relatives of Lee’s victims, who said they wanted to attend the execution but were afraid to travel due to fears of COVID-19 infection. They asked the court to delay the event, arguing that under the law they’re entitled to attend and that if it’s too dangerous for them to make the trip to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Lee is incarcerated, execution should be delayed. The judge agreed.
On Sunday, after an emergency appeal by the Department of Justice, a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit lifted the injunction. Chief Circuit Judge Diane Sykes wrote that the scheduling of an execution date is itself not judicially reviewable and that the relatives of Lee’s victims do not, in fact, have a statutory or regulatory “right” to attend the execution under the Federal Death Penalty Act. The execution was back on.
But this morning, a U.S. district judge ordered a new delay—this one affecting not just Lee’s executio
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