Will Federal Executions Resume Soon?

Daniel Lee is scheduled to be executed in less than two weeks in Indiana, but he has been unable to see his lawyers for three months because of the pandemic. Lee, sentenced for his involvement in the 1996 murder of a couple and their 8-year-old daughter, has been limited to phone calls, which attorney, Ruth Friedman, said she feared would jeopardize her client’s confidentiality, the New York Times reports. Amid a hold on travel during the pandemic, her team has been unable to discuss pressing issues with Lee, conduct investigations, or interview witnesses in person. “I can’t do my job right. Nobody can,” Friedman said from Washington, D.C., where she is working to commute Lee’s sentence to life in prison.

If she is unsuccessful, Lee, 47, will be the first federal death row inmate to be executed in 17 years. Last year, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department would resume executions of federal inmates. Two weeks ago, Barr scheduled the first four executions for this summer at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, In. On Monday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the federal executions to proceed. As the pandemic worsened, many states postponed scheduled executions of prisoners sentenced under state law. Since the pandemic began, there has been only one execution at a state prison, in Bonne Terre, Mo. The Florida capital trial for Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, was delayed indefinitely. Speaking of plans for federal executions, Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center said, Whatever they do is going to be wrong,” questioning why the Justice Department would prioritize federal executions over the lives of those who might be exposed to the virus in the process. “Nobody has to be executed now,” he said.

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