District of Columbia Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan this morning issued a temporary injunction halting three scheduled federal executions, including the execution scheduled today for Daniel Lee, convicted in the slaying of three members of an Arkansas family.
The decision came in a lawsuit challenging execution protocols. The judge said they hadn’t been able to fully litigate that claim.
The Justice Department immediately appealed to have the injunction overturned.
Separately, family members of the victims in the Lee case have been trying to postpone the executions, which they oppose, because COVID-19 has made travel to the Terra Haute, Ind., prison for the execution unsafe. They took their plea today to the U.S. Supreme Court for emergency intervention.
Shawn Nolan, attorney for one of the condemned inmates, issued this statement:
“The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol. The district court’s injunction ensures that the courts will have the opportunity to carefully address those issues. Given that these executions threaten to become COVID-19 super-spreader events, the injunction will also protect the lives and health of the correctional staff, victim family members, spiritual advisors, attorneys, and others who must witness the executions.”
Ruth Friedman, an attorney for Lee, also issued a statement:
“In what may be an unprecedented occurrence in a capital case, the trial judge, the lead prosecutor, and the victims’ family all oppose executing Danny Lee and believe a life sentence is appropriate. The government has portrayed Mr. Lee as a white supremacist and a child-killer. Neither is true. He has long since renounced the skinhead groups he joined as a youth, and the government has now dramatically re-characterized its case against Mr. Lee; in fact, its own evidence at the trial was that he did not murder the child victim. Mr. Lee’s indisputably more-culpable co-defendant received a life sentence, in large part because the government relied on junk science and false evidence to secure both Mr. Lee’s conviction and his death sentence.
“Moreover, two federal judges, both appointed by Republican presidents, found on two different grounds that Danny Lee’s death sentence was unfairly obtained and should be invalidated, but procedural obstacles prevented both from granting relief. Mr. Lee is still trying to get a court to give substantive consideration to the problems in his case. Given all of these circumstances, it would be unconscionable for the government to execute Danny Lee.”