Chutkan said the detainees had presented evidence that the government’s plan to use only pentobarbital for the execution “poses a significant unconstitutional risk of severe pain”.Chutkan said inmates have produced evidence that in other executions, prisoners who were given pentobarbital suffered from “flash pulmonary edema” which she said interferes with breathing and produces feelings of drowning and strangulation.
Detainees identified alternatives, including the use of an opioid or anti-anxiety medication at the start of the procedure or a completely different method, an execution squad, said Chutkan.
The Department of Justice appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia circuit, and the Bureau of Prisons continued to prepare to proceed if the suspension were to be lifted. The man for the execution, Daniel Lewis Lee had access to social visitors, visited his spiritual advisor and was allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. He is under constant staff surveillance. Lee’s witnesses are expected to include three family members, his lawyers, and his spiritual advisor.
The new hold came a day after a Federal Court of Appeal lifted a hold on the execution of Lee, from the Yukon, Oklahoma, which was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET Monday at Terre Haute Federal Prison, Indiana. He was convicted in Arkansas for the 1996 murder of arms dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and his 8-year-old daughter Sarah Powell.
“The government has attempted to continue these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol,” said Shawn Nolan, one of the lawyers for the men threatened with federal execution.
Lee’s execution was to take place after a federal court of appeal lifted an injunction that had beenafter some family members claimed that they would be at high risk for coronavirus if they had to travel to attend. The family appealed to the Supreme Court on Monday.
The decision to go ahead with the execution – and two more planned for later this week – during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and ravages the prisons of country, has drawn the attention of civil rights groups as well as the families of Lee’s victims.
Critics argue that the government is creating a useless emergency that is fabricated for political gain. The developments are also expected to add a new edge to the national conversation on criminal justice reform ahead of the 2020 elections.
Anti-death penalty demonstrators began to assemble Monday at Terre Haute. Organizer Abraham Bonowitz drove a van across town with a sign on the side of a trailer that said, “Stop the executions now!” ”
Due to coronavirus problems, Bonowitz said his group, Death Penalty Action, did not encourage others to show up. A few dozen demonstrators were not expected to join him.
“It’s symbolic,” said Bonowitz of the protests. “We’re just here to say it’s wrong. ”
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said that the Department of Justice has a duty to carry out court sentences, including the death penalty, and to bring a feeling of closure to the victims and to the communities where the killings took place.
But the parents of those killed by Lee strongly oppose the idea. They wanted to be present to counter any claim that it was being made on their behalf.
“For us, it’s about being there and saying,” It doesn’t happen on our behalf; we don’t want that, “said parent Monica Veillette.
Relatives would travel thousands of kilometers and witness the execution in a small room where the social distancing recommended to prevent the spread of the virus is practically impossible. A lawyer for family members who opposed the execution said they did not go to Indiana on Monday morning.
The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the explosion in the number of coronavirus cases behind bars. There are currently four confirmed cases of coronavirus among inmates at Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate has died.
Barr said he believed the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without risk”. The agency has put in place a number of additional measures, including temperature controls and the requirement for witnesses to wear masks.
But on Sunday, the Ministry of Justice revealed that a staff member involved in the preparation of the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said that he was not in the execution room and no ‘had contacted someone from the specialized team sent to manage the execution.
The three men who were to be executed this week were to be put to death when Barr announced that the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment while the matter was out of the public domain. A fourth man is expected to be killed in August.
Federal executions have been rare, and the government has only killed three accused since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988 – most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for kidnapping, rape and the murder of a young female soldier in 1995..
In 2014, following a failed state execution in Oklahoma, President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to conduct a comprehensive review of the death penalty and the issues surrounding deadly injectable drugs.
The Attorney General said last July that the Obama era review was completed, paving the way for the resumption of executions.