The federal government wasted no time carrying out the execution of convicted murderer Daniel Lewis Lee Tuesday morning after the Supreme Court overturned a stay that had been in place on federal executions. 

Lee, a white supremacist convicted of the 1996 killing of an Arkansas family in “a plot to establish a whites-only nation,” maintained his innocence when allowed to speak before prison officials injected a lethal cocktail of pentobarbital sodium into his body, the AP reported. 

“I didn’t do it,” Lee said on the gurney. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer. … You’re killing an innocent man.” 

Lee was pounced dead shortly after 8 a.m. at the Federal Correctional Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana.  

The Trump Administration announced its intent to resume federal executions last year, however, a series of legal hurdles prevented the government from moving forward on any executions. The last time a federal prisoner was executed was in 2003 when former soldier Louis Jones was put to death by lethal injection for the 1995 murder and kidnapping of soldier Tracie McBride. 

The Supreme Court’s split 5-4 decision backed by the bench’s Republicans cleared a preliminary injunction from lower courts that had stayed Lee’s execution. The unsigned brief from the majority—justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch—claimed there was not enough evidence to establish the death penalty as cruel and unusual. 

“Vacatur of that injunction is appropriate because, among other reasons, the plaintiffs have not established that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their  […] Eighth Amendment claim,” the brief states. “That claim faces an exceedingly high bar.”

“The plaintiffs in this case have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a Federal Court,” the decision concludes. “Last-minute stays” like that issued this morning “should be the extreme exception, not the norm.” It is our responsibility “to ensure that method-of-execution challenges to lawfully issued sentences are resolved fairly and expeditiously,” so that “the question of capital punishment” can remain with “the people and their representatives, not the courts, to resolve.”

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elena Kagan dissented. In his response, Breyer states that “there are significant questions regarding the constitutionality of the method the Federal Government will use to execute him.”

“The Court hastily disposes of respondents’ Eighth Amendment challenge to the use of pentobarbital in the Federal Government’s single-drug execution protocol. In doing so, the Court accepts the Government’s artificial claim of urgency to truncate ordinary procedures of judicial review. This sets a dangerous precedent,” Sotomayor wrote in a second dissent. “Because of the Court’s rush to dispose of this litigation in an emergency posture, there will be no meaningful judicial review of the grave, fact-heavy challenges respondents bring to the way in which the Government plans to execute them.”

Read the full decision here. 


Follow Raleigh News Editor Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.