A US federal judge in the state of Indiana halted the first execution planned in 17 years after the victim's family raised concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. The family of the victim wanted to attend the execution of Daniel Lee, a multiple murder convict but was afraid of traveling due to fear of spike in new coronavirus cases in the United States.
US Penitentiary Terre Haute, where the execution was scheduled to take place, already has inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19. However, the court said that a new date for the execution will be announced in due course, once it is assured that the family members would be able to come and attend the execution.
Lee, 47, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Monday at the US Penitentiary Terre Haute. This would have been the first execution in 17 years as opposed to the state of Indiana since 2003. However, it now has been canceled after a legal suit was filed against the Department of Justice by the victim's family saying that they had the right to be present at Lee's execution and that it should be delayed till it is safe to travel or the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Following this, on Friday, Chief District Judge Magnus-Stinson ruled in favor of the victim's family members. "The plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction is granted to the extent that the Court enjoins the defendants from carrying out the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee on July 13, or any further date, pending final resolutions of the merits of this case or until further order of the court," he said.
On Humanitarian Grounds
Needless to say, the decision to halt the execution is completely on humanitarian grounds. The petition was filed by Earlene Peterson, whose daughter Nancy Mueller and eight-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Powell, were killed by Lee in 1997. Lee had also killed Peterson's son-in-law and robbed their house.
As of Saturday, US Penitentiary Terre Haute has four inmates who are COVID-19 positive. This was one of the main reasons behind Peterson wanting the execution to be canceled. However, Peterson is a vocal advocate against the execution of any person and last year had even requested President Donald Trump to commute Lee's execution to life imprisonment without parole.
"Yes, Daniel Lee damaged my life, but I can't believe taking his life is going to change any of that," Peterson had said in a statement last year. The Arkansas judge who presided over the trial and the lead prosecutor in the case had also opposed Lee's death sentence. However, his execution was not the only one to take place in this jail this summer. There are three more on death row, who will be executed through lethal injection, two of which are scheduled for next week.
One among them is Wesley Ira Purkey, who was convicted of rape and murder, will be executed on Wednesday. Much like Peterson, Purkey's spiritual advisor, a Buddhist priest, has also filed a lawsuit arguing that he would be at risk of the virus if he attends the execution.