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Question of the Day
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A lawyer for an Oklahoma man sentenced to die for the slayings of three members of an Arkansas family asked a federal judge Friday to grant a hearing on whether his death sentence should be overturned.
Danny Lee, 45, of Yukon, Okla., was convicted along with Chevie Kehoe in the 1996 slayings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy Mueller, and their young daughter, Sarah. Prosecutors portrayed Kehoe as the leader of the operation, though jurors gave Kehoe a sentence of only life in prison.
Kehoe and Lee robbed the Muellers of firearms and $50,000 in cash to further a scheme to create a white supremacist nation in the Pacific Northwest.
Karl Schwartz, an assistant public defender, argued at a hearing in Little Rock that the judge should order a hearing on whether to reopen Lee’s case because Lee’s trial and prior appellate lawyers failed to raise a key issue regarding Lee’s mental health.
The judge will issue a ruling later.
Prosecutors introduced evidence at trial that involved the use of a test that determined that Lee was a “psychopath” and would pose a future danger, even if imprisoned. Schwartz said the test has since been “thoroughly discredited by the scientific community” and that information was available during the trial that Lee’s lawyers could have used to challenge the test.
Since then, Schwartz said other lawyers failed to raise the issue on appeal. He urged U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes to allow a hearing, arguing that Lee is the only person on federal death row who was convicted with the test in question used as evidence.
John M. Pellettieri, an attorney with the Justice Department, didn’t dispute that the test had been discredited but said Lee didn’t have an appropriate legal mechanism to reopen his case. He also said Lee wasn’t harmed by being tagged as a psychopath because there was other evidence that went against him, including having an alleged role in a separate slaying and an incident in which he threatened a jail guard.
Lee and Kehoe were tried together but after jurors sentenced Kehoe to life, then-U.S. Attorney Paula Casey wanted to take the death penalty off the table for Lee. But she couldn’t get clearance to do so from the Justice Department. The trial judge later overturned Lee’s death sentence, but that ruling was reversed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Holmes gave the sides time to submit further written arguments and did not indicate when he would rule.
“I don’t want to cut anybody off in this case. It’s a death case,” Holmes said.
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