US Carries Out First Federal Execution in 17 Years

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
July 14, 2020US News
US Carries Out First Federal Execution in 17 Years
Daniel Lewis Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for murder in the Pope County Detention Center in Russellville, Ark., on Oct. 31 1997. (Dan Pierce/File/The Courier via AP)

The first federal execution in the United States in nearly 20 years took place on Tuesday after the Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s order.

Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, who murdered a family of three in Arkansas in 1999, was put to death by lethal injection at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana.

The execution was scheduled for July 13 but was delayed because a lower court issued an injunction based on a claim that the execution could violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, appointed by President Barack Obama, issued the injunction, prompting the Department of Justice to  file an appeal.

In their ruling issued early Tuesday, Supreme Court justices in the majority said plaintiffs haven’t established that they’re likely to succeed.

Using pentobarbital sodium to execute inmates doesn’t appear to violate the Eighth Amendment, the justices said, pointing to five states using it for executions.

The drug has been utilized for over 100 executions without incident and “has been repeatedly invoked by prisoners as a less painful and risky alternative to the lethal injection protocols of other jurisdictions,” the justices wrote. The use was upheld by the Supreme Court last year and by numerous courts of appeals.

“Against this backdrop, the plaintiffs cite new expert declarations suggesting that pentobarbital causes prisoners to experience ‘flash pulmonary edema,’ a form of respiratory distress that temporarily produces the sensation of drowning or asphyxiation,” the majority wrote.

“But the government has produced competing expert testimony of its own, indicating that any pulmonary edema occurs only after the prisoner has died or been rendered fully insensate. The plaintiffs in this case have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a federal court.”

NTD Photo
A guard tower flanks the sign at the entrance to the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., on March 17, 2003. (Michael Conroy/ File/AP Photo)
Attorney General William Barr
Attorney General William Barr speaks during in a roundtable with law enforcement officials in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, on June, 8, 2020. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, all nominated by Republican presidents, were the majority.

In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, claimed that the death penalty itself may violate the U.S. Constitution.

Breyer argued that keeping Lee on death row for 20 years undermines the rationale for the penalty, which “is often imposed arbitrarily.” He pointed to the co-defendant of Lee being sentenced to life in prison despite committing the same crime.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan, wrote in a separate dissent that the court “hastily” disposed of the Eighth Amendment challenge.

“In doing so, the court accepts the government’s artificial claim of urgency to truncate ordinary procedures of judicial review. This sets a dangerous precedent,” she wrote.

“The government is poised to carry out the first federal executions in nearly two decades. Yet because of the court’s rush to dispose of this litigation in an emergency posture, there will be no meaningful judicial review of the grave, fact-heavy challenges respondents bring to the way in which the government plans to execute them.”

Two other men are scheduled to be executed this week.

Wesley Ira Purkey violently raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl before dismembering and burning the girl’s body. He was also convicted of murdering an 80-year-old woman.

Dustin Lee Honken fatally shot five people—two men who planned to testify against him and a single mother and her 10-year-old and 6-year-old daughters.

Keith Dwayne Nelson, who kidnapped and raped a 10-year-old girl before strangling her to death, is slated to be executed next month.

From The Epoch Times

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