The first federal execution in the United States in more than 1
Daniel Lewis Lee and one co-worker were convicted of killing three members of the same family in 1996.
Some of the victims’ relatives oppose his execution and tried to delay it, saying they could expose them to coronavirus.
But the verdict means that the execution by lethal injection will now continue.
The Appeals Court overturns a decision by a lower court that put the execution of 47-year-old Lee on hold and says no federal law or regulation gave victims the right to participate in the execution.
In its ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the family’s claim “lacks any questionable legal basis and is therefore frivolous”.
The relatives will appeal to the Supreme Court. It must act before 4pm Monday local time (8pm GMT) to stop the execution, reports the New York Times.
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Lee, who tortured and killed a family of three before dumping his bodies in a lake, had originally been scheduled for execution in December. His case was delayed after the courts blocked the death sentence from being executed.
Earlene Peterson (81), whose daughter, granddaughter and grandson was killed by Lee, has opposed the execution.
Instead, she says she wants Lee to get life in prison, the same sentence as Lee’s accomplice.
“Yes, Daniel Lee hurt my life, but I can’t believe his life will change any of that,” Ms. Peterson said in a video statement last year.
Lee’s planned execution is one of four planned in July and August. All four men are convicted of killing children.
Why change the rules for executions?
The Trump administration said it would resume federal executions after a long time since last year.
In a statement at that time, Attorney General William Barr said: “Under the administrations of both parties, the Justice Department has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals.
“The Department of Justice upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to take punishment imposed by our justice system.”
The move has been criticized as a political decision, where campaigns also expressed concern that cases were in a hurry.
The last prisoner executed by the federal death penalty was Louis Jones Jr., a 53-year-old Gulf War veteran who murdered 19-year-old soldier Tracie Joy McBride.
Federal and state executions – what’s the difference?
Under the US legal system, crimes can be tried either in federal courts – at the national level – or state courts at the regional level.
Some crimes, such as counterfeiting currency or theft of emails, are automatically tried at the federal level, as are cases where the United States is a party or those involving constitutional violations. Others can be tried in federal courts because of the seriousness of the crimes.
The death penalty was banned at the state and federal level by a 1972 Supreme Court decision that annulled all existing death penalty regulations.
A Supreme Court decision of 1976 allowed states to reinstate the death penalty and in 1988 the government passed legislation that made it available again at the federal level.
According to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 people were sentenced to death in federal cases between 1988 and 2018, but only three have since been executed. There are currently 62 prisoners on the federal death row.