Convicted killer Daniel Lewis Lee died by lethal injection Tuesday in the first execution by the US federal government in nearly two decades. The execution followed an overnight ruling by the Supreme Court that allowed it to move forward after delays.
A lower court temporarily blocked Lee’s execution, which was originally scheduled for 4 pm EDT Monday. The Supreme Court acted in a 5-4 vote that allowed the execution to proceed as planned. The execution came after a series of delays and objections by the victims’ relatives and civil rights groups.
Lee, 47, of Yukon, Oklahoma, who died at 8:07 am, killed a family of Jewish descent in 1996. He was recruited a year before the murders to join a white supremacist organization known as the Aryan People’s Republic.
While there hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, defendants have been put on death row and the Justice Department continues to approve death penalty prosecutions. In 2019, Attorney General William Barr moved to reinstate the federal death penalty, invoking a debate regarding the constitutionality of the lethal injection.
In the 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that plaintiffs could not prove their claim that pentobarbital injections violated the 8th amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The high court’s four liberal justices dissented, pointing out that Lee’s codefendant received a life sentence, while Lee was sentenced to death.
Barr has said the Justice Department has a duty to carry out court sentences, including the death penalty, to bring closure to the victims’ families and those in the communities where the killings took place.
However, relatives of Lee’s victims long argued that Lee deserved a sentence of life in prison and countered any contention that the execution was 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,’” relative Monica Veillette said.