US appeals to proceed with 1st federal execution in 17 years

FILE - In this Oct. 31 1997 file photo Danny Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for murder in the Pope County Detention Center in Russellville, Ark. A federal judge in Indiana on Friday, July, 10, 2020, halted the first federal execution planned in 17 years scheduled three days from now over COVID-19 concerns. Daniel Lee had been scheduled to die by lethal injection. Lee, 47, of Yukon, Okla., was convicted of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell. (Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 31 1997 file photo Danny Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for murder in the Pope County Detention Center in Russellville, Ark. A federal judge in Indiana on Friday, July, 10, 2020, halted the first federal execution planned in 17 years scheduled three days from now over COVID-19 concerns. Daniel Lee had been scheduled to die by lethal injection. Lee, 47, of Yukon, Okla., was convicted of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell. (Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File) (AP2001)

Determined to proceed with the first federal execution in nearly two decades, the Justice Department plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that would halt authorities from carrying it out on Monday.

The family of the victims in the case had requested that it be called off because their fear of the coronavirus would keep them from attending. Not that they wanted to see the killer die; they have long asked that he be given a life sentence instead, and their pandemic objection could postpone the execution indefinitely.

Daniel Lee, 47, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday. Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

But Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Friday that the execution would be put on hold because the family's concern about the pandemic, which has killed more than 130,000 people and is ravaging prisons nationwide.

About an hour after the judge's ruling, the Justice Department filed its notice to appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and filed court papers asking the district judge to stay the order pending the appeal. The 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, includes Indiana, which is where the execution was to take place at the federal prison in Terre Haute.

The Justice Department argues that it is likely to win an appeal. It contends that executions require extensive planning and coordination with other law enforcement officials and says dozens of staff members were already being brought in from other facilities ahead of Monday’s planned execution.

“These preparations cannot easily be undone,” the filing says.

Attorney General William Barr has said part of the reason the Trump administration wants to resume executions is to deliver a sense of justice to the victims' families.