A federal court of appeal in Washington rejected the plea of the administration to intervene, leaving the hold in place, before the Supreme Court acted by 5 votes to 4. However, Lee’s lawyers insisted on the fact that execution could not continue after midnight under federal regulations.
With the Conservatives in the majority, the court said in an unsigned opinion that “the executions of the prisoners could go as planned”. The four Liberal judges were dissenting.
Lee’s execution was scheduled for around 4:00 am EDT Tuesday, according to court documents. There was another delay when the government requested an emergency decision regarding a former stay that had been issued in the case, but that should not derail execution.
The Prisons Office continued to prepare even as the lower courts stayed the proceedings.
Lee, from Yukon, Oklahoma, had access to social visitors, visited his spiritual advisor, and was allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. Lee’s witnesses are expected to include three family members, his lawyers, and his spiritual advisor.
Lee 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.
The decision to move forward during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and ravages prisons nationwide has caught the attention of civil rights groups as well only from the family of Lee’s victims.
Some relatives of the victims have argued that they would be at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend, and sought to delay the execution until it was safer to travel. These requests were initially granted, but were ultimately quashed by the Supreme Court.
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.
Two more executions are planned this week, but one, Wesley Ira Purkey, was awaiting a separate legal claim. Friday, the execution of Dustin Lee Honken was scheduled.
A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is expected to be executed in August.
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 MP Monica Veillette.
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 scheduled to be executed this week also received execution dates when Barr announced that the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the matter broke out. public domain.
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 woman in 1995. soldier.
In 2014, following a failed state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama ordered the Department of Justice to conduct a comprehensive review of the death penalty and the issues surrounding deadly injection drugs.
The Attorney General said last July that the Obama era review was completed, paving the way for the resumption of executions.
Associated Press editors Colleen Long and Mark Sherman in Washington, Michael Tarm in Chicago and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., Contributed to this report.