Supreme Court clears way for execution of federal prisoner

The Supreme Court, in an early morning filing Tuesday, paved  the way for the first federal executions to take place since 2003 after a lower court placed a hold on one execution hours earlier.

Daniel Lewis Lee had been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. ET Monday at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. But a court order preventing Lee’s execution, issued Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, remained in place.

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Daniel Lewis Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for murder in the Pope County Detention Center in Russellville, Ark on Oct. 31, 1997.  (Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File)

Daniel Lewis Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for murder in the Pope County Detention Center in Russellville, Ark on Oct. 31, 1997.  (Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File)

A federal appeals court in Washington refused the Trump administration’s plea to step in, before the Supreme Court acted. Still, Lee's lawyers said the execution could not go forward after midnight under federal regulations.

Lee was sentenced to death for the 1996 killings of a gun dealer, the dealer’s wife and their 8-year-old daughter in Arkansas.

Victims' families had argued that they should be able to be present for the execution but cited close quarters and concerns regarding the location and its personnel -- a Bureau of Prisons staff member involved in preparing for the execution tested positive for the coronavirus.

Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press in recent days that he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk.” The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

Two more executions are scheduled this week, Wesley Ira Purkey on Wednesday and Dustin Lee Honken on Friday.

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A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.

Fox News' Ronn Blitzer, Bill Mears and the Associated Press contributed to this report