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Wednesday, August 12, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Executed killer was a menacing skinhead at Aryan Nations compound in North Idaho

UPDATED: Tue., July 14, 2020

The Aryan Nation compound at Hayden Lake, Idaho, is shown in 1996, the year Danny Lewis Lee angrily confronted Spokesman-Review reporter Bill Morlin.  (ID)
The Aryan Nation compound at Hayden Lake, Idaho, is shown in 1996, the year Danny Lewis Lee angrily confronted Spokesman-Review reporter Bill Morlin. (ID)
By Bill Morlin For The Spokesman-Review

Danny Lewis Lee, a heavily tattooed, violent skinhead and 1990s bit-player at the Aryan Nations in North Idaho, was executed Tuesday at a U.S. penitentiary in Indiana – the first prisoner put to death by the federal government in 17 years.

I remember Lee very well.

He angrily confronted me at the Aryan Nations compound in April 1996, contemplating an assault with other skinheads.

As a reporter for this newspaper, I had gone to the Aryan compound on Rimrock Road, north of Hayden, at the invitation of Aryan founder Richard Butler. My colleague, photographer Craig Buck, joined me.

Butler greeted us and other journalists while standing at the lectern of his church, adorned with racist flags, artifacts and a bust of Adolf Hitler.

Lee and a group of skinheads stood in the back of the church, shouting “Heil Victory” after Butler concluded his remarks – like always, denouncing Jews, people of color, the media and the federal government.

When Butler agreed to take questions, I asked him if he planned on naming a successor to take over leadership of the Aryan Nations. Butler ducked the question and didn’t immediately name his successor.

The exchange angered Lee. In his view, I had insulted the white supremacist leader – Lee’s guiding light – by suggesting that someday he might die.

Lee and his skinhead buddies followed us out of the compound church, encircled us, and began screaming in a most menacing fashion.

A tall, imposing man, Lee had lost his left eye when he was struck with a cue ball during a Spokane bar fight that started when he called an American Indian a racist name.

Lee refused to wear an eye patch, and his skinhead friends soon were calling him “Cyclops.”

Now Lee was towering over me, his face near mine.

Then he spat on me.

I did not respond and quickly tucked my notebook in a back pocket.

Craig and I backed safely out of that situation, still not knowing then just how violent and far Lee and his associates were willing to go to further their white supremacy beliefs.

It wasn’t long after that encounter in North Idaho that a jury convicted Lee for his involvement in the grisly murders of an Arkansas gun dealer, his wife and 8-year-old daughter.

Their bodies were found taped, bound and weighted with rocks in a bayou. The case shocked and sickened veteran investigators.

According to eyewitnesses at his execution, Lee continued to profess his innocence until just moments before a lethal dose of the drug phenobarbital was pumped into his arm as he lay strapped to a gurney at the federal prison in Terre Haute. He also claimed to have disavowed his long-held racist views.

The execution of the 47-year-old Lee came after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.

Born in Oklahoma, he became a neo-Nazi skinhead and migrated to the Northwest in the mid-1990s, drawn by the presence of the Aryan Nations, which would later go bankrupt and lose its Idaho compound.

While in this region, Lee stayed in a house in north Spokane and at the now-abandoned Shadows Motel & RV Park site near the North Division Y, where he hung out with Chevie Kehoe and other racists. They carried out various crimes and plotted a whites-only homeland.

Their loot included guns stolen from the murdered Arkansas gun dealer, William Mueller.

The pair had assault rifles, grenades and an estimated 500,000 rounds of ammunition. They traveled from the Shadows, selling the weapons at various gun shows to support their lifestyles, before returning to Spokane.

A former manager at the Shadows told me in a 1999 interview that Chevie Kehoe spent time building machine guns, homemade blasting caps and small bombs. He used phone books to muffle the blast sounds of his practice devices.

One bomb was detonated at the doorway of Spokane City Hall in 1996.

The manager also claimed that a man matching the description of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had visited the Shadows, looking for detonator material shortly before the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. The FBI, however, discounted that possibility.

Lee and Kehoe also were associated with Faron Lovelace, an escapee later implicated in a North Idaho murder and the kidnapping and robbery of a couple in Colville.

A jury also convicted Kehoe in 1999 for his involvement in the triple murder, but he escaped the death penalty and received a sentence of life in prison.

The inequity of the sentences given to Lee and Kehoe was raised but didn’t gain traction during the 21 years Lee spent on death row.

There are those who say the administration of justice in death penalty cases certainly isn’t quick, and the repeated postponement of the execution dates seems to add to the argument that it’s cruel and unusual.

The victims’ families pleaded with the Justice Department and the Trump Administration to spare Lee’s life during a pandemic.

After hearing that the execution had been carried out, I reflected on all those thoughts ricocheting with my personal opposition to the death penalty.

It’s as though Danny Lee’s spit is still wet on my shirt.

Bill Morlin is a retired S-R reporter who can be reached at bmorlin@gmail.com

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