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Victims' kin seek delay for federal execution

They cite risks of travel in pandemic by Tony Holt | July 8, 2020 at 7:29 a.m.
In this Oct. 31 1997, file photo, Danny Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for the 1996 murders of an Arkansas family in Russellville. (AP file photo)

Victims' family members have asked a judge to block a convicted murderer's Monday execution because of fears for their own health if they have to travel and witness his death in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The family members argued that the federal government is putting them in an "untenable position" of having to make such a grave choice, according to a Tuesday court filing.

In the motion, Little Rock attorney H. Baker Kurrus stated that the family members' rights as witnesses "are being subverted" by the government's insistence on scheduling the execution "during an exploding epidemic."

Condemned killer Daniel Lewis Lee, along with accomplice Chevie Kehoe, was convicted in the January 1996 slayings of William Mueller, 52, his wife, Nancy, 28, and her daughter Sarah Powell, 8. The victims were attacked and asphyxiated in their Tilly-area home, and their bodies were dumped in a bayou outside Russellville.

Kehoe, 47, was sentenced to life in prison and Lee, 46, was sentenced to death. Lee is scheduled to be executed at 4 p.m. Monday at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. He would be the first federal death-row inmate in 17 years to be put to death by lethal injection.

Nancy Mueller's family filed the motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Terre Haute.

Last week, Lee's attorneys asked a federal judge in Little Rock to delay the execution because of the pandemic. The judge in that case has not ruled on the motion.

The plaintiffs in Tuesday's court filing are Earlene Branch Peterson, who is Mueller's mother and Sarah's grandmother; Kimma Gurel, who is Mueller's sister and Sarah's aunt; and Monica Veillette, who is Mueller's niece and Sarah's cousin.

Peterson, who is 81 and suffers from a heart ailment, has been asked by her doctor not to attend the execution, Veillette told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week. If the execution is not stayed, then Peterson will be driven by her son to Terre Haute from her home in Hector, which is a more than 550-mile trip, Veillette said.

Mueller's family members have said for years that they are opposed to Lee's execution. They have said he should get the same punishment as Kehoe, who prosecutors said was the ringleader and the one who killed the 8-year-old girl.

Veillette, who will be flying from Spokane, Wash., to attend the execution, lamented having to board a plane, stay in a hotel and then enter a prison while the number of coronavirus infections continues to climb nationwide.

"Now, it's like having a choice between our own health and doing what's right," she said.

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