A white supremacist who murdered an 8-year-old girl, her mum and step dad is set to be executed today.
The first federal execution in 17 years is due to go ahead on Monday despite family of Daniel Lewis Lee’s victims threatening to sue over fears attending could see them exposed to coronavirus.
Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, of the Southern District of Indiana, halted the execution on Friday but this has been overturned despite a correctional officer at USP Terre Haute, Indiana, testing positive for Covid-19 on Sunday.
Earlene Branch Peterson, 81, whose daughter Nancy Mueller and grandchild Sarah Powell were killed by Lee and Chevie Kehoe in 1996, is concerned attending the execution would put her at unnecessary risk.
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She had previously urged President Donald Trump to give Lee clemency and have his sentence reduced to life in prison, like his accomplice.
On May 4, 1999, a jury in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty of numerous offences, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and he was sentenced to death.
On January 11, 1996, after robbing and shooting the victims – who also included Bill Mueller – with a stun gun, Lee covered their heads with plastic bags, sealed the bags with duct tape, weighed down each victim with rocks, and threw the family of three into the Illinois bayou, the court heard.
Ms Peterson said her daughter, 28, was due at a gun show in Oklahoma with her husband, Bill, 56, a gun dealer, on the day they were murdered.
“It was like they just vanished, just disappeared. We started searching for them, it was pretty horrible,” said Ms Peterson in a video last year.
The bodies of the three victims’ – who had been set upon by Lee and Kehoe at their home in Searcy County, Arkansas – were discovered five months after they went missing.
Baker Kurrus, attorney for Earlene Branch Peterson and her daughter and granddaughter Kimma Gurel and Monica Veillette, said the family have been put in an “untenable position”.
“The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety,” she said.
“Eighty-one year old Earlene Branch Peterson, the mother and grandmother of the victims, along with Ms Peterson’s surviving daughter and granddaughter, wanted to attend the execution and had planned to be there when it was scheduled for December 2019.
“Because the Government has scheduled the execution in the midst of a raging pandemic, these three women would have to put their lives at risk to travel cross-country at this time.
“They will now appeal the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to the US Supreme Court in an effort to seek reversal.
“My clients hope the Supreme Court and the federal government will respect their right to be present at the execution and delay it until travel is safe enough to make that possible.”
Ms Peterson previously said executing Lee does not honour her daughter, instead it “dirties her name”.
“She doesn’t want it and I don’t want it. That’s not the way it should be. That’s not the God I serve,” she said, fighting back tears.
Lee’s attorney Ruth Friedman last month said her client was convicted using “junk science and false evidence” and refuted claims from the US Department of Justice that he is a white supremacist.
“The government has portrayed Mr Lee as a white supremacist and a child-killer. Neither is true,” she continued.
“He has long since renounced the skinhead groups he joined as a youth, and the government has now dramatically re-characterised its case against Mr Lee.”
According to Ms Peterson, it was argued in court by Lee’s attorneys that Kehoe told Lee to kill Sarah but he refused, telling him “I don’t kill children”, to which Kehoe had allegedly said “I do” before killing the eight-year-old.