Judge halts 1st federal execution in 17 years, citing virus

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FILE – In this Oct. 31 1997, file photo, Daniel Lewis Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for murder in the Pope County Detention Center in Russellville, Ark. On Tuesday, July 7, 2020, family members of the victims of Lee, who is scheduled to be put to death next week, asked a federal judge to delay his execution, saying the coronavirus pandemic puts them at risk if they travel to attend it. (Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File)

A federal judge in Indiana on Friday halted the first federal execution planned in 17 years scheduled three days from now over COVID-19 concerns.

Daniel Lee had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday. But Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in Indiana ruled Friday that the execution would be put on hold because the family of the victims wanted to attend but were afraid of traveling during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 130,000 people and is ravaging prisons nationwide.

The injunction delays the execution until there is no longer such an emergency.

Lee, 47, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

The relatives of the victims had pleaded for years that Lee instead should receive the same life sentence as the ringleader in the deadly scheme.

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