Family of child, 8, murdered by death row inmate ‘want sentence reduced to life’

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Relatives of a family murdered by a federal inmate – set to be executed next month – want his sentence reduced to life in prison, according to his lawyer.

Daniel Lee’s attorney Ruth Friedman said her client was convicted using “junk science and false evidence”, while claiming he is not actually a child killer or white supremacist.

The convicted murderer is set to become the first federal inmate to be executed in nearly 20 years on July 13.

The Trump administration’s plan to resume federal executions has been held up by court fights over the drugs used in lethal injections.

The administration won a victory in April when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed a district judge’s injunction that blocked four death penalty sentences from being carried out.

As a result, Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to schedule the death of Lee, as well as the deaths of Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken and Keith Dwayne Nelson for July and August.

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.

After robbing and shooting the victims – Bill Mueller, his wife Nancy and her daughter Sarah Powell, 8, – 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.

However, Ms Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, said: “In what may be an unprecedented occurrence in a capital case, the trial judge, the lead prosecutor, and the victims’ family all oppose executing Danny Lee and believe a life sentence is appropriate.

“The government has portrayed Mr Lee as a white supremacist and a child-killer. Neither is true.

“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.

“In fact, its own evidence at the trial was that he did not murder the child victim.

“Mr Lee’s indisputably more-culpable co-defendant received a life sentence, in large part because the government relied on junk science and false evidence to secure both Mr Lee’s conviction and his death sentence.”

Meanwhile, Purkey’s attorney Rebecca Woodman said her client should not be executed because the Eighth Amendment “prohibits executing someone who lacks a rational understanding”.

She said Purkey is largely incapacitated by the “combined effects of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and a lifetime of trauma”.

This has left the inmate “unable to comprehend why the federal government plans to execute him”, she continued.

“While he long ago accepted responsibility for the crime that put him on death row, he no longer has any rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him.

“He believes his execution is part of a large-scale conspiracy against him by the federal government in retaliation for his frequent challenges to prison conditions.

“The Eighth Amendment prohibits executing someone who lacks a rational understanding of the basis for his execution, and a pending lawsuit argues that executing Wes Purkey when he lacks that understanding would be unconstitutional.

“The courts have not had time to resolved Wes’s claims, yet the government now seeks to rush forward with his execution.

“No execution should proceed unless and until the question of Wes’s competency is resolved.”

On November 5, 2003, a jury in the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri found Purkey guilty of kidnapping a child resulting in the child’s death, and he was sentenced to die.

Purkey was sentenced to death after violently raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl, before dismembering, burning, and dumping her body in a septic pond.

He also was convicted in state court for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane.

His execution is scheduled for July 15.

Honken’s attorney Shawn Nolan said his client – set to be executed on July 17 – has served 12 years in solitary confinement “as a result of proceedings that reflect many of the fundamental flaws in the federal death penalty system”.

“Mr Honken’s death sentence was imposed for murders committed in the state of Iowa, which abolished the death penalty in 1965, and which could have prosecuted Mr Honken in state court,” he continued.

“Additionally, his trial and sentencing were plagued by misconduct and the ineffectiveness of counsel, who failed to adequately inform Mr Honken’s jury of his severely dysfunctional background or his resultant mental health problems.

“He was then denied full and fair review of these defects in federal habeas proceedings.

“Despite these flaws, each of which implicates essential constitutional guarantees, the government now seeks to execute Mr Honken, a deeply remorseful and devout Catholic and loving father of two children.”

On October 14, 2004, a jury in the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa found Honken guilty of numerous offences, including five counts of murder during the course of a continuing criminal enterprise, and he was sentenced to death.

Honken shot and killed five people — two men who planned to testify against him, and a single, working mother and her ten-year-old and six-year-old daughters.

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