Attorneys for Daniel Lee, scheduled to be executed July 13 for the murders of three members of an Arkansas family, have asked that the execution be delayed on account of the coronavirus pandemic.

His legal team has mounted several challenges to his execution, with support from the victims’ family, judges and prosecutors. They say it is unfair for Lee to die while the ringleader of the crimes, Chevy Kehoe, serves a life sentence. DNA tests and challenges to elements of the case are part of the legal battle.

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The latest motion is merely for a delay until at least the spring of 2021. After reciting all the adverse developments in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., the motion says in part:

It is in this environment that the Department of Justice has scheduled the first four federal executions in 17 years, with three of them just a day apart, and Daniel Lee’s first. This follows three months of a shutdown of all institutions within the Bureau of Prisons, halting all legal visits, including at USP Terre Haute where federal death row is housed and the executions are to take place. Social distancing inside the prison, where one prisoner died recently of COVID-19, will be impossible. Travel to Indiana, including from current “hot spots,” will put many at risk.

DOJ’s insistence on conducting his execution in the midst of this crisis has, moreover,
interfered with the ability of Mr. Lee’s legal team to provide him with competent counsel through end-stage litigation and clemency proceedings. It has given rise to an untenable ethical conflict–that is, whether counsel should put their client’s best interests ahead of their own interests in maintaining their health and that of their families or community. That conflict has deprived Mr. Lee of his access to counsel, potentially foreclosing otherwise available avenues for relief over the last several months and now in the days leading up to his execution.

The Government’s rush to execute Mr. Lee during this pandemic is even more
incomprehensible in light of the extraordinary circumstances of his case. Those most familiar with this case, including in roles usually supportive of a death sentence, all oppose Lee’s execution.

The motion notes that it is not a request for a stay of execution but a request for the court to use its “inherent authority” to set or modify dates of execution.

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