On Tuesday morning, the U.S. government carried out the first federal execution in 17 years on convicted murderer Daniel Lewis Lee. Lee was an avowed White supremacist who was found guilty of killing a family of three. His attorney spoke out harshly against the execution, as the coronavirus pandemic prevented her or anyone else from being present at the time of his death.
Lee was pronounced dead by the coroner at 8:07 a.m. ET on Tuesday in Terre Haute, Indiana, according to a report by CNN. He was killed a few hours after the Supreme Court issued an unsigned order allowing for the resumption of the federal death penalty, clearing a lower court order that temporarily blocked Lee's execution. A federal judge had previously blocked the execution of Lee and three other prisoners over concerns about the humanity of the federal government's lethal injection protocol. That stopped Lee from facing the death penalty on Monday, but it was circumvented by Tuesday.
Lee's attorney, Ruth Friedman, issued a statement condemning this sudden capital punishment. It said: "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. 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."
Some family members of Lee's victims were reportedly involved in an appeal seeking the delay of his execution, as they would not be able to travel to the federal prison to witness the sentence carried out. The Supreme Court denied that appeal at 2 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning. Their attorney, Baker Kurrus, said that they were "heartbroken," adding: "the government prevented them from being there and family did everything they could to be there."
Another family member — Earlene Peterson — told CNN last year that she did not want Lee executed on her account even if he was guilty. Lee and an accomplice were convicted of torturing and murdering Peterson's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.
Lee maintained his innocence until the end. According to a pool report, his last words were: "I didn't do it. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life but I'm not a murderer. You're killing an innocent man."
The death penalty is a controversial topic around the country, where state laws mandate its legality in most cases. According to CNN, Attorney General William Barr has repeatedly spoken in favor of the punishment and worked to allow it again, while Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan have all spoken out against it. Among their arguments was a concern about the efficacy of the chemical mixture used in lethal injections, and the humanity of that method.