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First of four federal executions scheduled for Terre Haute prison postponed over COVID-19 concerns

Unclear how order impacts other executions
Federal corrections officer accused of accepting bribes to allow inmates to leave prison for sex
Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 18:48:01-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge in Indianapolis Friday postponed the first federal execution in the United States since 2003.

The ruling also raised questions about two additional executions scheduled next week in Terre Haute, along with one in August.

Daniel Lee was scheduled to die by lethal injection Monday, but Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson
issued the delay because relatives of the victims wanted to attend but were concerned about traveling during a pandemic. The execution is delayed until the COVID-19 emergency is over.

Friday's developments came as the government planned the resumption of executions at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute. Barring another court order, two men will be put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday and Friday and another in August.

There has been an informal moratorium on federal executions while states, to varying degrees, continue to put convicted criminals to death. Indiana's last execution was in 2009 at the state prison in Michigan City. Matthew Wrinkles was executed for a triple murder.

Texas, by a wide margin, leads all states in the number of executions.

The federal executions are opposed by some and supported by others. Added to the usual arguments are concerns that executions will be carried out during a pandemic, yet relatives of the inmates and their victims are able to attend.

"Why would anybody who is concerned about public health and safety want to bring in people from all over the country for three separate executions in the span of five days to a virus hot spot," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center.

However, U.S. Attorney General William Barr says the federal government has an obligation to carry out the sentences. "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 said.

The death-row inmates in Terre Haute who are scheduled for execution were convicted of murdering children and, in two cases, raped the children they killed. Here is more information on each man:

  • Daniel Lewis Lee: A member of a white supremacist group, murdered a family of three in Arkansas, including an eight-year-old girl. After robbing and shooting the victims with a stun gun, Lee covered their heads with plastic bags, sealed the bags with duct tape, weighed down each victim with rocks, and threw the family of three into the Illinois bayou. Lee’s execution is now on hold.
  • Wesley Ira Purkey: Raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl, and then dismembered, burned, and dumped her body in a septic pond. He also was convicted in Missouri state court for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane. Purkey’s execution is scheduled for July 15.
  • Dustin Lee Honken: Shot and killed five people in Iowa—two men who planned to testify against him, and a single, working mother and two children. Honken’s execution is scheduled to occur on July 17.
  • Keith Dwayne Nelson: Kidnapped a 10-year-old girl rollerblading in front of her Missouri home, then raped and strangled her to death. Nelson's execution is scheduled for August 28.

Executions typically draw protesters, and the Bureau of Prisons has made arrangements for that.

Demonstrators FOR capital punishment can assemble at the Voorhees Park for processing beginning at 12:00 pm and will be transported to FCC Terre Haute via bus. No demonstrators will be processed after 1:30 pm.

Demonstrators AGAINST capital punishment can assemble at MSA Softball for processing beginning at 12:00 pm and will be transported to FCC Terre Haute via bus. No demonstrators will be processed after 1:30 pm. ·

All demonstrators will be issued a face mask upon arrival and will be required to wear it throughout the entire process. Demonstrators will be subject to COVID-19 screening.