A U.S. federal judge issued an injunction Monday delaying what would have been the first federal execution in 17 years, hours before it was to take place.
The delay will allow legal challenges against a recent lethal injection protocol to play out — for now.
U.S. district court judge Tanya S. Chutkan ordered a stay on the executions of Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Keith Dwayne Nelson until further order of the court. The Trump administration is likely to appeal to a higher court so that the executions can proceed.
“The succession of last-minute rulings is the result of the Government’s decision to set short execution dates even as many claims, including those addressed here, were pending,” wrote Chutkan. “The Government is entitled to choose dates, but the court cannot take short cuts in its obligations in order to accommodate those dates.”
Lee, a member of a white supremacist group from Yukon, Oklahoma, was scheduled to die by lethal injection Monday afternoon at a federal prison in Indiana. He was convicted of murdering a family of three, including an 8-year-old girl in 1996.
A federal appeals court lifted an earlier hold on Lee’s execution Sunday.
Monday’s decision follows a string of appeals, during which even the family of the victims opposed the execution.
Lee’s family had filed an appeal saying that traveling thousands of kilometers to witness the execution in a small room where social distancing is not possible would put them at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a legal challenge to a new lethal injection protocol proposed for federal executions.