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Daniel Lewis Lee executed after Supreme Court clears the way for first federal execution in 17 years

Jul 14, 2020, 6:35 AM | Updated: 7:28 am
FILE - In this Oct. 31 1997, file photo, Daniel Lewis Lee waits for his arraignment hearing for mur...
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)
(Dan Pierce/The Courier via AP, File)

    (CNN) — Daniel Lewis Lee, a convicted killer, was executed Tuesday morning in the first federal execution in 17 years after the Supreme Court issued an overnight ruling that it could proceed.

Lee was pronounced dead by the coroner at 8:07 a.m. ET in Terrre Haute, Indiana. His last words were “I didn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’m not a murderer. You’re killing an innocent man,” according to a pool report.

The Supreme Court cleared the way for the resumption of the federal death penalty in an unsigned order released after 2 a.m. ET Tuesday.

The court wiped away a lower court order temporarily blocking the execution of Lee in a 5-4 vote.

Lee, a one-time white supremacist who killed a family of three, was scheduled to be executed Monday. A federal judge blocked the planned execution of Lee, and three others, citing ongoing challenges to the federal government’s lethal injection protocol.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit late Monday refused the Justice Department’s request to stay the injunction. The Justice Department had appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

CNN has reached out to the Justice Department for comment on the court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court said that the death row inmates, including Lee, bringing the case “have not established that they are likely to succeed” in their challenge in part because the one drug protocol proposed by the government — single dose pentobarbital — has become a ‘mainstay’ of state executions.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reiterated in one dissent something he has said before: he thinks it’s time for the court to revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty.

“The resumption of federal executions promises to provide examples that illustrate the difficulties of administering the death penalty consistent with the Constitution,” he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan and Ginsburg, wrote separately to criticize the court’s “accelerated decision making ”

“The court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections,” she said.

Three other appeals seeking to delay the execution are also pending at the Supreme Court. One concerns the family of Lee’s victims who are concerned about traveling and going to a federal prison during the coronavirus pandemic. A second regards evidence presented by prosecutors during his sentencing hearing.

In 2019, Attorney General William Barr moved to reinstate the federal death penalty after a nearly two decade lapse.

Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to move forward with executions of some “death-row inmates convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society — children and the elderly.” The scheduled executions reignited legal challenges to the specific protocol used in executions and reinvigorated a debate concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Earlene Peterson — whose daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law were tortured, killed and dumped in a lake by Lee and an accomplice — has opposed Lee’s execution, telling CNN last year that she did not want it done in her name.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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Daniel Lewis Lee executed after Supreme Court clears the way for first federal execution in 17 years