A US judge issued an injunction on Monday halting what would have been the first federal execution in 17 years from being carried out later in the day in order to allow legal challenges against the government’s lethal-injection protocol to continue.
Daniel Lewis Lee and his accomplice, Chevie Kehoe, were convicted of murder in aid of racketeering in 1999 for killing William Frederick Mueller, his wife Nancy Ann Mueller and his eight-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell, while stealing guns from Mr Mueller's home.
While Kehoe was sentenced to life in prison, prosecutors sought the death penalty for Lee.
Lee was scheduled for execution on Monday, but an injunction stopped it after the family of Lee's victims intervened. They argued that due to the coronavirus they wouldn't be able to attend the execution and that it was their right as victims to attend. They demanded a delay until after the pandemic.
"The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee's execution and their own health and safety," Baker Kurrus, the family's attorney, said.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the injunction, arguing the family members have no right under federal law to attend the execution. The court characterised the appeal as lacking any arguable legal basis and therefore being "frivolous."
However, Judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday ruled that there were still legal issued that needed resolving before the execution could take place, and once again delayed Lee's sentence. Judge Chutkan's ruling questioned the use of lethal injection as a means of execution.
“The scientific evidence before the court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions,” she wrote in her ruling.
She said that inmates challenging the protocol by claiming lethal injection is a form of cruel and unusual punishment would likely succeed.
The US Justice Department plans to appeal the injunction.
Should that occur, the family plans to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
At least one member of the family, Earlene Peterson - whose daughter, grand-daughter and son-in-law were murdered by Lee and Kehoe - wants to stop the execution altogether.
"I believe you have to pay for what you do," Ms Peterson said in a video explaining why she was opposed to the execution. "But that don't mean death."
Ms Peterson claims that following the sentencing of Kehoe, prosecutors decided against pursuing the death penalty for Lee. The family agreed with their decision, preferring life in prison for the man. However, the Justice Department overruled their wishes and decided to pursue the death penalty anyway.
"I can't see how executing Daniel Lee will honour my daughter in any way," Ms Peterson said."In fact, it's kinda like it dirties her name. Because she wouldn't want it and I don't want it."
Ms Mueller's sister Nancy also opposes the execution. Mr Mueller's son, Scott, doesn't care what happens.
The family made the video in hopes it could sway President Donald Trump to grant Lee clemency.
"I hope and pray President Trump will give him clemency," Ms Peterson said. "That would help me and my family more than anything."
Ms Peterson is a supporter of Mr Trump, though her electoral preference may have doomed Lee. Attorney General William Barr said the federal government would resume executions. Prior to the Trump Administration, the federal government had not pursued an execution since 2003.