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Court Clears Way for First Federal Execution in 17 Years to Proceed

  • July 13, 2020

Several family members of Mr. Lee’s victims — including those who had filed the lawsuit — have called for the Justice Department to commute his sentence to life in prison. But in the lawsuit filed last week, they argued that their pre-existing conditions, including congestive heart failure and asthma, made traveling hundreds of miles to attend the execution especially risky.

Not anticipating the court’s decision, two family members of the victims missed scheduled flights from Washington State on Sunday morning, when the stay was still in effect, said the family’s lawyer, Baker Kurrus. He said it was too difficult for Earlene Branch Peterson, 81, whose daughter and granddaughter were killed by Mr. Lee, to drive hundreds of miles to the execution from her home in Arkansas.

“It’s very distressing to think that the U.S. government put its full power behind the idea that they need to hurry up and kill Danny Lee even though there hasn’t been an execution in 17 years — even though that rendered the rights of my clients illusory,” Mr. Kurrus said. “They’re stomping on the rights of victims of crimes.”

Diane S. Sykes, the appeals court’s chief judge, wrote in a ruling for the appeals panel that the family did not have a protected right to bear witness to Mr. Lee’s execution but rather only permitted to attend.

The decision reversed the temporary injunction, issued on Friday by Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, an Obama appointee. The Seventh Circuit is among the most conservative appeals courts in the country, with only two Democratic presidential appointees among its 14 judges. President Trump has already appointed four judges to its bench.

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