The federal government carried out the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, Tuesday morning following a 2 a.m. U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Lee’s execution at a penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., marked the first federal execution in 17 years.
Lee, who was convicted of killing a family of three in 1996 as part of an effort to form a white supremacist community, maintained his innocence until his death at 8:07 a.m, according to reports.
“I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I'm not a murderer," Lee reportedly said when asked about his final statement. “You're killing an innocent man.”
The execution was originally scheduled for Monday afternoon but delayed after a lower court filed an injunction due to ongoing court cases against the constitutionality of the new lethal-injection protocol put in place last summer following a series of botched executions.
An appeal from relatives of the victims to call off or postpone the execution due to unsafe travel conditions during the coronavirus pandemic placed a momentary hold on the execution, but the motion was ultimately rejected by the court.
According to Lee’s attorneys, Lee was left strapped to the gurney for four hours while the Department of Justice debated the case.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, an unsigned 5-4 Supreme Court order stated that Lee and fellow death-row prisoners’ case against the injection protocol had “not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention.”
Faith leaders were quick to decry Lee’s execution.
On July 7, more than 1,000 faith leaders signed a joint letter urging President Trump and Attorney General William Barr to put a hold on federal executions.
“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the letter read.
Heather Beaudoin, senior manager of the Equal Justice USA Evangelical Network, told Sojourners: “We as evangelicals believe human life has limitless value, and we are not only opposed to the resumption of federal executions but also appalled at the manner in which this death sentence was carried out. Our government has acted in bad faith and in utter disregard for the value of human life.”
Outrage against Lee’s execution was bipartisan with the organization Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty writing in a tweet on Tuesday, “They played politics with a man’s life, and the politics aren’t even on their side anymore.”
Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist, questioned the legality of Lee’s execution in a tweet, noting that the execution warrant expired at midnight, more than eight hours before Lee’s death. It is unclear whether a new warrant was issued.
“By all measures, this execution was unnecessary and avoidable,” Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, an organization working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, said in a news release. “The federal government relentlessly plotted its course to execute Daniel Lee despite a historic decline in public support for the death penalty, clear opposition by the victims’ family, unwavering Catholic opposition to the restart of federal executions, and an unyielding global pandemic which has already taken more than 135,000 American lives.”
Public support of the death penalty has wavered in recent years. A 2020 Gallup poll found that a record-low 54 percent of U.S. adults believe the death penalty is morally acceptable. Ten states have formally repealed the death penalty since the last federal execution was held in 2003.
“We must repeat it again and again. The death penalty is immoral. It is ineffective. It is expensive. It is cruel. It is laden with racism. It is full of mistakes. It is wrong,” writer Clint Smith tweeted on Tuesday. “Nothing is made better by the government injecting someone with poison in our name. That is not justice.”
This article has been updated to include additional comments from faith leaders.