A federal appeals court overturned on Sunday a lower court’s ruling that would have blocked the first execution of an inmate by the federal government in nearly two decades, the Washington Examiner reported.
But while the decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals gave authorities the go-ahead to issue the death penalty, just a day later, another ruling in a separate case stopped the government from going through with the execution of 47-year-old Daniel Lewis Lee, which was originally slated for Monday, according to NBC News.
Breaking down the case
Attorney General Bill Barr has been fighting for months to reinstate the use of the death penalty in the U.S. But while Lee was set to be the first U.S. prisoner killed in 17 years, the courts have complicated matters.
According to the Examiner, Lee was convicted in 1999 after killing a family three: a married couple and their 8-year-old daughter. He was sentenced to death via lethal injection, but the family of the victims recently asked for the execution to be delayed due to concerns over COVID-19.
A district court judge ruled in the family’s favor last week, saying they would be denied “their lawful rights to attend the execution of Lee” because of the virus, as Fox News reported. But by Sunday, the appeals court had overturned that ruling, arguing that the family has no legal right to attend the execution in the first place.
The family vowed afterward to appeal to the Supreme Court, but with the clock ticking, it looked like Lee would be breathing his last breaths on Monday. Hours before he was set to be executed, however, another court ruling stopped authorities in their tracks.
NBC News reported:
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., said the three death row inmates [including Lee], and a fourth whose execution is scheduled for August, can pursue their claim that the federal government’s plan to use a single drug will cause severe pain and needless suffering.
Lee’s execution will likely now be delayed until that case can make its way through the system.
“A sentence of death”
As this situation shows, murderers like Daniel Lewis Lee often spend decades in prison waiting for execution, but thanks to political interference, their deaths are frequently delayed. This has made capital punishment extremely costly for taxpayers.
But as Barr said in a statement published last month, the victims of these crimes — and their families “left behind” — deserve justice.
“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” Barr wrote June 15.
He went on: “We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”