Speed Reads

death penalty

Judge blocks 1st federal execution in 17 years, in latest legal challenge to restarting death penalty

UPDATE: Hours after publishing, the Supreme Court dismissed the injunction and cleared the way for this week's three executions.

A federal judge stepped in Monday to stop the first federal executions since 2003, ruling that the three inmates slated to be put to death this week have a right to argue their concerns about the constitutionality of lethal injection drugs in court. "The public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process," said U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C. The Trump administration immediately appealed the decision, and when the federal appeals court in D.C. declined to overturn the stay, the administration petitioned the Supreme Court.

Attorney General William Barr lifted a hold on federal executions last year, and Daniel Lewis Lee was scheduled for execution at the federal person in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Monday evening. Lee was convicted of the murders of three people, including an 8-year-old girl, in Arkansas in 1996, as part of a white supremacist plot to set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest.

Last month, Barr said "we owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

But family members of Lee's victims were among the biggest opponents of executing him, arguing he should be given a life sentence like the plot leader who participated in the murders. They also have an appeal at the Supreme Court. "For us it is a matter of being there and saying, 'This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'" said relative Monica Veillette.

The federal government has executed just three people since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. But things have shifted "since the Justice Department last carried out an execution in 2003," The Washington Post notes. "Executions and death sentences have both declined significantly, public support for capital punishment has fallen, and more states have abolished the practice entirely. State have struggled to obtain drugs, with pharmaceutical firms opposing the use of their products to carry out death sentences, in some cases going to court to fight against it."