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Judge delays first federal execution since reinstatement due to COVID-19 concerns
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Judge delays first federal execution since reinstatement due to COVID-19 concerns

A federal judge in Indiana Friday temporarily stayed the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee due to COVID-19 concerns expressed by members of the victims’ families who planned to attend the execution. Lee was scheduled to be the first of five federal prisoners set to be executed after US Attorney General Bill Barr ordered a return to federal executions last year, ending the almost two-decade lapse.

Daniel Lewis Lee is responsible for the 1996 murders of William and Nancy Mueller, along with Nancy Mueller’s 8-year old daughter Sarah Powell. A jury sentenced Mr. Lee to death in 1999.

Members of the victims’ families sought the injunction, citing an absence of safeguards against COVID-19. The judge agreed. She described Earlene Peterson’s, the mother of Nancy Mueller and grandmother of Sarah Powell, circumstance by stating:

The harm to Ms. Peterson, for example, is being forced to choose whether being present for the execution of a man responsible for the death of her daughter and granddaughter is worth defying her doctor’s orders and risking her own life.

Further, Ms. Peterson lives more than 500 miles from Terre Haute, the site of the execution. She is 81 years old, and suffers from congestive heart failure, putting her at risk of complications from COVID-19. Two other family members, Kimma Gurel and Monica Veillette, also wanted to attend. All three have underlying conditions that could put them at risk.

Ms. Peterson supports clemency for Mr. Lee, believing his death sentence was arbitrary. The Supreme Court refused to block the executions of the federal prisoners last month.