An Indiana federal judge halted the execution of a convicted child killer, saying the Justice Department scheduled a date without considering his victim’s family’s concerns about the coronavirus.
The decision temporarily holds up the first federal inmate execution in the United States since 2003.
Daniel Lee Lewis was scheduled to be executed on July 13 for the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and their eight-year-old daughter.
But their family members this week filed a lawsuit seeking to delay his execution until the coronavirus pandemic slows down to allow for safe travel and indoor gathering.
Nancy Mueller’s 81-year-old mother Earlene Peterson filed the complaint along with Ms. Mueller’s sister, niece and cousin. The family members say they oppose Lee’s execution, but want to witness it.
Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson sided with the plaintiffs, saying the Justice Department should not put Ms. Peterson’s life at risk with the decision to execute Lee this month.
“The harm to Ms. Peterson, for example, is being forced to choose whether being present for the execution of a man responsible for the death of her daughter and granddaughter is worth defying her doctor’s orders and risking her own life,” she wrote.
The judge stops the execution until the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
Judge Mangus-Stinson also scolded the Justice Department, saying Ms. Peterson will have to travel more than 500 miles from Arkansas to attend the execution in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“It appears they gave no consideration to their rights whatsoever,” she wrote.
The decision only applies to the Lee execution and not to the other three executions the Justice Department has scheduled this month.
Barker Kurrus, an attorney who represented the victims’ family, hailed the decision. He said his clients were grateful for the decision.
“he family is hopeful that the federal government will support them by not appealing today’s ruling, a reversal of which would put them back in the untenable position of choosing between attending the execution at great risk to their health and safety, or forgoing this event they have long wanted to be present for. We hope the government finally acts in a way to ease, rather than increase, the burdens of Mrs. Peterson and her family who have already been through an unspeakable tragedy,” he said in a statement.