Relatives of a death row inmate’s murder victims on Monday asked the Supreme Court to delay, because of the coronavirus crisis, the execution of a former white supremacist convicted of killing a family of three.
The lawsuit was filed just hours after a federal judge in a different case already postponed the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee. If carried out, Lee would have been the first federal inmate executed since 2003.
However, the plaintiffs moved ahead with the Supreme Court petition in case the stay is lifted in the other legal battle. It would give the Supreme Court another reason to halt Lee’s execution if a legal challenge to the method of execution fails.
Lee was scheduled to be executed Monday until a federal judge intervened earlier in the day saying she was concerned about whether the drug used in the lethal injection violated the Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The Supreme Court petition raises the question of whether the Justice Department can disregard the rights of crime victims and their families to attend a federal execution.
“The government has argued that, despite its repeated statements that death sentences are carried out in large part in the name of the victim and their families, these family members have no interest in asserting their right to attend the execution and seeking to postpone the execution until the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus abates and they can travel safely,” the plaintiffs wrote in the petition.
In 1996, Lee robbed and murdered an Arkansas gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and their 8-year-old daughter.
The family of Lee’s victims filed a petition to delay the execution saying they wanted to witness the execution but feared traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge had granted their petition last week, but late Sunday a federal appeals court overturned the ruling.
In reversing the lower court’s decision, the federal judge said the plaintiffs’ claim lacked “any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.”