U.S Government Executes Daniel Lewis Lee, Who Cries 'I Didn't Do It'

The U.S. government carried out the first federal execution in 17 years on Tuesday morning.

Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, of Yukon, Oklahoma, died after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

"I didn't do it. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I'm not a murderer. You're killing an innocent man," he said before he was executed, according to The Associated Press. Lee was pronounced dead at 8.07 a.m. EDT.

He was executed hours after a divided Supreme Court ruled that Lee's execution and that of other federal death row inmates "may proceed as planned."

Lee had initially been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT on Monday for the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy Mueller and her 8-year-old daughter Sarah Powell. Prosecutors said the killings were part of a plot to steal guns and cash to help establish a whites-only enclave in the Pacific Northwest.

But a court order issued on Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan halted Lee's execution and others scheduled for this week until the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn the decision.

Lee's attorneys had made last-ditch efforts to stop his execution, arguing that proceeding with it was a violation of a court order.

George Kouros, one of Lee's attorneys, wrote in a letter to Katherine Siereveld, the senior attorney at the Federal Correctional Complex, that a stay of execution issued by the District Court of the Eastern District of Arkansas in December last year remained in place until July 16.

Kouros wrote that because the stay technically remained in place, proceeding with the execution is a violation of the court order.

"Because the mandate has not yet issued, the Eighth Circuit's opinion has not taken legal effect, and the December 6, 2019 order staying the execution remains in place," Kouros wrote in the letter, which was provided to Newsweek.

He added: "Counsel for the Government are responsible for ensuring that the Warden of the United States Penitentiary in Terre Hate, Indiana, the United States Marshal for this District and appropriate Indiana District, and all other officials who would have any involvement in Mr. Lee's execution are notified of this stay and comply with its requirements."

Relatives of Lee's victims had also called to delay the execution, arguing in a lawsuit filed last week that traveling to witness it would put them at risk of contracting coronavirus. They opposed Lee's execution and noted that his accomplice in the killings, Chevie Kehoe, had received a life sentence.

In a statement on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said Lee had "faced the justice he deserved."

"This morning, in the first federal execution in 17 years, Daniel Lewis Lee was executed by lethal injection at FCI Terre Haute in accordance with a death sentence imposed by a federal district court in 1999," Barr said.

"Lee, a member of a white supremacist organization, brutally murdered William Frederick Mueller and Nancy Ann Mueller, along with her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell.

"After robbing and shooting them with a stun gun, Lee duct-taped plastic bags around their heads, weighed down each victim with rocks, and drowned the family in the Illinois bayou. On May 4, 1999, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty of numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and he was sentenced to death.

"Today, Lee finally faced the justice he deserved. The American people have made the considered choice to permit capital punishment for the most egregious federal crimes, and justice was done today in implementing the sentence for Lee's horrific offenses."

Two more federal executions are scheduled this week. Wesley Purkey's execution, set for Wednesday, is on hold in a separate legal claim. Dustin Lee Honken's execution is scheduled for Friday.

Shawn Nolan, an attorney for one of the men facing execution, has criticized the government's decision to proceed with the executions while coronavirus is ravaging prisons nationwide.

"The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol," Nolan said in a statement to Newsweek. He added that "these executions threaten to become COVID-19 super-spreader events."

Over the weekend, it emerged that an employee involved in the planning for this week's executions had tested positive for coronavirus. There are also currently four confirmed cases of coronavirus among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to the Bureau of Prisons. One inmate has died there.

This article has been updated with a statement from Attorney General William Barr.

Terre Haute
A sign sits at the entrance of the Federal Correctional Complex on July 13, 2020 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Scott Olson/Getty Images