US

US Supreme Court clears way for first execution of federal prisoner in 17 years

The Trump administration was moving ahead early Tuesday with the execution of the first federal prison inmate in 17 years after a divided Supreme Court reversed lower courts and ruled federal executions could proceed.

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Daniel Lewis Lee had been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT Monday. But a court order preventing Lees execution, issued Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, remained in place.

A federal appeals court in Washington refused the administrations plea to step in, before the Supreme Court acted by a 5-4 vote. Still, Lees lawyers said the execution could not go forward after midnight under federal regulations.

With conservatives in the majority, the court said in an unsigned opinion that the prisoners “executions may proceed as planned.” The four liberal justices dissented.

Two more executions are scheduled this week, Wesley Ira Purkey on Wednesday and Dustin Lee Honken on Friday.

A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.

The Bureau of Prisons had continued with preparations for Lees execution even as lower courts paused the proceedings.

Lee, of Yukon, Okalhoma, has had access to social visitors, has visited with his spiritual adviser and has been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. Hes been under constant staff supervision. The witnesses for Lee are expected to include three family members, his lawyers and spiritual adviser.

He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

“The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol,” said Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution.

The federal appeals court in Chicago had separately lifted an injunction on Sunday that had been put in place last week after some members of the victims family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend. The family on Monday appealed to the Supreme Court, which also denied the familys claims.

The decision to move forward with the execution—and two others scheduled later in the week—during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and is ravaging prisons nationwide, drew scrutiny from civil rights groups as well as family of Lees victims.

Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency for political gain. The developments are also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Anti-death penalty protesters began gathering in Terre Haute on Monday. Organizer Abraham Bonowitz drove a van through the city with a sign emblazoned on the side of a trailer that read, ““Stop executions now!”

Because of coronavirus concerns, Bonowitz said his group, Death Penalty Action, wasnt encouraging others to show up. No more than a few dozen protesters were expected to join him.

“Its symbolic,” Bonowitz said about the protests. “We are just here to say that this is wrong.”

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department has a duty to carry out the sentences imposed by the courts, including the death penalty, and to bring a sense of closure to the victims and those in the communities where the killings happened.

But relatives of those killed by Lee strongly oppose that idea. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that it was being done on their behalf.

“For us it is a matter of being there and saying, This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,” said relative Monica Veillette.

The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the explodiRead More – Source