Appeals court blocked what would have been the first federal execution in 17 years

INDIANAPOLIS —  Shortly before midnight, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s request to lift a preliminary injunction against carrying out the execution of Danny Lee — the first of four scheduled federal executions — in order to allow the court time to review claims about the method of execution brought by all four prisoners. Lee was scheduled to be executed at Terre Haute federal correctional complex Monday afternoon. If it had been carried out, it would have been the first federal execution since 2003, despite the risk that holding it during the COVID-19 pandemic posed to hundreds of people, including prison staff, victims’ family members, reporters, and faith leaders. Since the last federal execution was carried out, ten states have formally repealed the death penalty due to overwhelming evidence it is racist, error-prone, and arbitrary.

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, issued the following statement:

“We are breathing a collective sigh of relief that the court has stepped in to prevent these executions from occurring without full review by the courts. The fact that we got this close, during the worst public health crisis in our lifetime, should raise serious alarm bells. Victims' family members, spiritual advisors, corrections' officials, and public health experts have all come forward pleading with the government not to do this now. There was never a compelling reason for the government to restart federal executions for the first time in 17 years, except to distract from its failings —  particularly its failure to keep people safe from this pandemic.” 

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