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Stay of execution over coronavirus overturned, first federal death penalty since 2003 to happen Monday


An appeals court on Sunday overturned a lower court’s stay of execution requested on coronavirus grounds, paving the way for the first federal death sentence administered since 2003.

Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Indiana on Monday, in the first federal execution in 17 years.

The execution had been halted on Friday by Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, who ruled in favor of the victims’ family members, who want to be present but are afraid to travel thousands of miles in a pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Justice appealed the ruling and, on Sunday evening, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it.

In appealing the stay, the Justice Department held that Stinson’s order misconstrued the law, according to the Associated Press. The appeals court in its ruling said the family does not necessarily have the right to be present at the execution, and given that, their claim “lacks any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.”

Moreover, the family’s concerns “do not outweigh the public interest in finally carrying out the lawfully imposed sentence in this case,” the Justice Department said, according to AP.

The family said they would take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety,” the victims’ family’s attorney, Baker Kurrus, said in a statement obtained by CBS News. “Because the government has scheduled the execution in the midst of a raging pandemic, these three women would have to put their lives at risk to travel cross-country at this time.”

The family wants the execution delayed “until travel is safe enough to make that possible,” Kurrus said.

While the family has stated separately that they do not want Lee to die for his crimes, they want to be there if it happens.

To do so during a pandemic would require traveling thousands of miles and witnessing the execution in a room small enough to make social distancing impossible, AP noted.

The Terre Haute prison, where Lee is being held, has seen four confirmed coronavirus cases so far, according to AP, including one patient who died.

In addition, one of the staff members involved in preparing for the execution has tested positive for coronavirus, according to court filings obtained by AP.

With the employee self-isolating, and contact tracing under way, federal Bureau of Prisons said the issue would not hold up the execution of Lee and three other in mates who are scheduled to be put to death this week.