The federal government executed an inmate for the first time in nearly two decades on Tuesday morning.
Daniel Lewis Lee was convicted on May 4, 1999, of killing three members of an Arkansas family: William Frederick Mueller, his wife Nancy Ann Mueller, and his 8-year-old stepdaughter Sarah Elizabeth Powell. The Department of Justice executed Lee at the federal prison near Terre Haute, Ind., on Tuesday, the first federal execution carried out since 2003.
Lee was scheduled to die at 4 p.m. on Monday, but a federal court delayed his execution in a last-minute ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue at 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning, putting out an unsigned 5-4 ruling overturning the Monday stay, according to The Associated Press.
“I didn’t do it,” Lee said in his final remarks. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer … You’re killing an innocent man.”
Lee’s attorney Ruth Friedman released a statement following her client’s execution. Friedman said that amid the chaos of the court rulings and confusion in the Department of Justice on whether Lee could be executed or not, the death-row inmate laid strapped to a gurney for roughly four hours. At 4 a.m., federal agents called media and witnesses back to the prison and moved forward with Lee’s death sentence.
“It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution during a pandemic. It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution when counsel for Danny Lee could not be present with him, and when the judges in his case and even the family of his victims urged against it,” Friedman said. “And it is beyond shameful that the government, in the end, carried out this execution in haste, in the middle of the night, while the country was sleeping. We hope that upon awakening, the country will be as outraged as we are.”
The family of Lee’s victims had pushed to postpone his execution because of the pandemic and the risk to family members of attending. None of the victims’ family members were present at the execution.
Attorney General William Barr released a statement detailing Lee’s crimes and announcing that he received the “justice he deserved.”
“Lee, a member of a white supremacist organization, brutally murdered William Frederick Mueller and Nancy Ann Mueller, along with her eight-year-old daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell,” Barr said. “After robbing and shooting them with a stun gun, Lee duct-taped plastic bags around their heads weighed down each victim with rocks and drowned the family in the Illinois bayou. On May 4, 1999, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty of numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and he was sentenced to death.”
“Today, Lee finally faced the justice he deserved,” Barr added. “The American people have made the considered choice to permit capital punishment for the most egregious federal crimes, and justice was done today in implementing the sentence for Lee’s horrific offenses.”