Judge halts 1st federal execution in 17 years, citing virus

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FILE – In this Oct. 31 1997, file photo, Danny Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for the 1996 murders of an Arkansas family in Russellville, Ark. Lee’s request for a new trial in a 1999 federal murder conviction and death sentence in Arkansas has been denied, with the judge saying he doesn’t have jurisdiction while noting that evidence presented by attorneys “is reasonably likely” to have led in a different sentence. (Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File)

A federal judge in Indiana on Friday 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 on Monday. But Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in Indiana ruled Friday that the execution would be put on hold because the family of the victims wanted to attend but were afraid of traveling during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 130,000 people and is ravaging prisons nationwide.

The injunction delays the execution until there is no longer such an emergency.

Lee, 47, 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.

The relatives of the victims had pleaded for years that Lee instead should receive the same life sentence as the ringleader in the deadly scheme.

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