A federal appeals court ruled Sunday that the execution of convicted murder and white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee will go on as scheduled.
“We vacate the preliminary injunction,” wrote Chief Judge Diane Sykes. “The plaintiffs’ [Administrative Procedure Act] claim lacks any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.”
This reverses a preliminary injunction issued by Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on Friday. Lee was set to be put to death on Monday for the 1996 murders of gun dealer William Mueller, 53, wife Nancy Mueller, 28, and daughter Sarah Mueller, 8. The thing is, this injunction happened because Nancy’s family asked for it: her mother Earlene Branch Peterson, sister Kimma Gurel, and niece Monica Veillette.
It’s a fraught matter. The murders of Nancy and Sarah were devastating, but they have argued that Lee’s death sentence was unfair while the mastermind of the slayings–Chevie O’Brien Kehoe–got away with just life in prison. Both defendants, who were white supremacists, were convicted of committing the murders for money to fund the creation of a new whites-only country.
“Chevie has used the system his whole life,” Peterson told The New York Times in a 2019 profile. This isn’t to say that she necessarily thought life should be an easier punishment for Lee.
“I believe putting Daniel Lee to death is not the answer,” she said. “It’s an easy way out. He should have to live through this. Like I did.”
The family’s request for a preliminary injunction didn’t rest on their personal reservations about Lee dying. Legally speaking, the problem was that the execution was scheduled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and attending it would leave Peterson at serious risk.
From the motion obtained by Law&Crime:
I [Peterson] am under the care of a doctor for a number of heart problems. I have had a heart attack that damaged my heart, and I have had open-heart surgery. I have congestive heart failure at this time, and I must take medications for my conditions. My doctor has advised me to remain at home and avoid personal contact with others due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The appeals court, however, ruled they didn’t have the right to see the execution.
… they have no statutory or regulatory right to attend the execution. Judicial review under the APA is limited to persons who are “adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute.” 5 U.S.C. § 702. Accordingly, a plaintiff must establish that “the injury he complains of … falls within the zone of interests sought to be protected by the statutory provision whose violation forms the legal basis for his complaint.”
The plaintiffs cannot satisfy this basic requirement. No federal statute or regulation gives them a right to attend Lee’s execution. Needless to say, executions are not public proceedings.
Through an attorney, Peterson, Gurel, and Veillette voiced disappointment with the appeal court’s decision to lift the preliminary injunction. But they promise to appeal this to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“My clients hope the Supreme Court and the federal government will respect their right to be present at the execution and delay it until travel is safe enough to make that possible,” lawyer Howard Baker Kurrus said in a statement.
[Screengrab via THV11]
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