The first man scheduled to die as a result of the Justice Department’s decision to reinstate capital punishment is a 46-year-old white supremacist who once set off a bomb outside of Spokane City Hall.
Danny Lewis Lee, 46, is in custody at a maximum security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and is now scheduled for lethal injection on Dec. 9. That’s according to a directive issued by U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, which named Lee along with four other men to be executed by the end of January for murders of minors and the elderly dating back to the 1990s.
Barr’s announcement paved the way for Lee’s execution, which would be the first of a federal inmate in more than 16 years. The decision from the head of President Donald Trump’s Justice Department comes as public support of the death penalty for murder convictions hovers just above 50%, down from almost 80% in the mid-1990s, according to the Pew Research Center’s public polling data on the question.
Convicted child killer and rapist Joseph Duncan is on federal death row, but will not be among the first five executed. He was sentenced in Idaho to die in 2008.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, told the Associated Press on Thursday that he was concerned the decision was being made in haste.
“The federal government hasn’t carried out any executions in 15 years and so that raises serious questions about the ability to carry out the executions properly,” he said.
Critics of the death penalty argue statistics show the sentence doesn’t deter crime and is disproportionately applied to communities of color.
In the announcement, the Justice Department said it would use a single drug for its lethal injections, pentobarbital, which is currently used in executions in Georgia, Missouri and Texas. Past federal executions had used a three-drug cocktail.
Lee, nicknamed “Cyclops” by other white supremacists in the Inland Northwest after he lost his left eye in a Spokane bar fight, was sentenced to death in 1999 for the suffocation death of three people in Arkansas.
According to a federal indictment, Lee, along with Chevie Kehoe, threw the bodies of William Mueller, Nancy Mueller and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell, into a bayou after shooting them with a stun gun and wrapping their heads with plastic bags sealed by duct tape, all in an effort to steal cash and weapons as part of an effort to overthrow the U.S. government.
Some of the guns stolen from the Mueller family re-emerged in Spokane as part of later crimes, according to court documents.
Lee was implicated in at least one other killing, as well as the April 29, 1996, bombing of Spokane City Hall. That device detonated in the pre-dawn hours and contained nails and screws that exploded into Riverfront Park and damaged the Post Street entrance of the building. No injuries were reported.
Federal prosecutors in Arkansas brought racketeering charges against Lee and Kehoe for the bombing, which was alleged to be part of a plot on behalf of a group called the Aryan People’s Republic. That group envisioned an overthrow of the federal government and the subsequent creation of an all-white society, according to court records.
Kehoe, also 46, was sentenced to life in prison. He’s serving that sentence at a maximum security facility in Colorado, according to the Bureau of Prisons records.
Lee has been appealing his death sentence in the 20 years since his conviction. In September, attorneys filed a new motion to vacate his sentence, arguing that new DNA evidence rebutted claims made by prosecutors in his 1998 trial and that witnesses against him were not credible.
A federal judge in Arkansas denied that request in March. That ruling has been appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Missouri.
If Lee’s execution occurs as scheduled, he’ll be the first federal inmate to be put to death since Louis Jones Jr.
Jones was executed in March 2003 for the rape and murder of U.S. Army Pvt. Tracie Joy McBride on a military base in San Angelo, Texas, in 1995.
The death penalty law in Washington state was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in October, following a moratorium imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2014. The last state inmate executed was 52-year-old Cal Coburn Brown in 2010. He was convicted of rape and murder in the 1991 torture and slaying of Holly Washa.
In announcing the Justice Department’s new policy, Barr noted that Congress had legalized the form of punishment and said the decision wasn’t partisan-driven.
“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” Barr said in a statement.
The other men sentenced to die are Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Alfred Bourgeois and Dustin Lee Honken.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.