Attorney General William Barr Claims This Execution is for Us—But We Don't Want It | Opinion

Attorney General William Barr did not speak for us when he announced the main reason for the federal government resuming executions was that they owe it to the victims and their families. We are one of those families and we are very concerned that Attorney General Barr would use our family's tragedy to push forward something we have spoken out against for over 20 years. Daniel Lee is scheduled to be executed on December 9th. We do not agree with the Attorney General that Lee's sentence is fair: it goes directly against our religious and personal beliefs. Neither he nor anyone else is doing this for us, contrary to what they say.

We lost a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, Nancy Mueller, her beautiful eight-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, and Nancy's husband, William Mueller. Nothing can bring them back. This execution will not allow us to spend Christmas with our lost loved ones. It will not bring us closure or heal our grief; it will not honor our lost loved ones or give us justice.

In truth, this has been as much a sentence carried by us as the person scheduled to be put to death in our names. We have been forced to carry the unbearable load placed on us against our stated wishes by the justice system, a weight that will only be greatly multiplied if our voices go unheard and the execution of Daniel Lee is carried out in direct opposition of our desires.

We are several generations living with not only the extreme pain anyone would endure from losing loved ones in this way but also the constant dragging of all of our lives back to this devastating time rather than being allowed to move on as we've been able to do when it comes to the other person who actually planned these crimes and murdered my young cousin.

Chevie Kehoe, an avowed white supremacist, was the mastermind and ringleader; the evidence showed that he murdered eight-year-old Sarah when Lee said he couldn't. Kehoe was given life in prison without the opportunity for parole and we felt peace and complete closure the moment that sentence was spoken. Our family was able to start sorting out our grief without really thinking about him much anymore. When we do think about Kehoe it has to do with Mr. Lee's sentence and how it made no sense to us that Lee wasn't also given life imprisonment. We have struggled to understand how our justice system can be fair when the person who is less culpable received a harsher sentence than the one who planned these murders and killed a child.

Our family sat through the entire trial, we listened to all the witnesses and saw all the evidence. What we learned from all of this was how deeply involved Mr. Kehoe was with some very disturbing, scary hate groups, how he intended to set up a whites-only nation funded by robbery and murders and that Lee was described to us as little more than a puppy dog following Kehoe in his plans. It was clear to us the real danger was in Kehoe which is why we agreed when the prosecuting team tried to seek life imprisonment for Lee when Kehoe was given that sentence. We were consulted then and said emphatically that this would give us justice, but it didn't happen.

Instead began the most exhausting twenty-four years any of us have lived because of having to revisit this loss over and over again. Our family has been re-traumatized by this compassionless and brutal process with no regard for our health or happiness. This has a generational effect. One of us gave birth to a daughter sixteen days after our loved ones were killed. Her entire life has been experienced in the shadow of this loss and in the shadow of the legal process for Lee.

The head of our family, eighty-year-old Earlene Peterson (Nancy's mother and Sarah's grandmother), recently made a video plea imploring President Trump to commute Lee's sentence to life imprisonment. She feels this execution goes against her deeply-held religious beliefs, does not honor her daughter or granddaughter but instead dirties their names. She is a strong supporter of President Trump, and believes that if he knew this he would grant her relief in this. She has suffered emotionally and physically because of this process but she has also had difficulty reconciling Mr. Lee's execution with her faith. It is immensely hurtful that the final act the government plans to carry out in her and her loved ones' names goes against everything she has worked for and believes in.

The question the Attorney General should be asking is not whether we want to attend the execution but whether we want it to happen at all. Collectively, we do not. We want now what we have asked for all along: to be relieved of the burden of this sentence and for the final chapter of our loved ones' lives to be written with mercy. Please heed our wishes, Mr. President.

Earlene Peterson is the mother of Nancy Mueller and grandmother of Sarah Powell. Kimma Gurel, Earlene's daughter, is the sister of Nancy Mueller and aunt of Sarah Powell. Monica Veillette, Earlene's granddaughter, is the niece of Nancy Mueller and first cousin to Sarah Powell.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​