AG Barr Announces Resumed Scheduling of Federal Executions


by Henry Stiepleman

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – Attorney General William Barr this Monday ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of four men on death row, announced the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The four men—Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Keith Dwayne Nelson —were all convicted of murdering children. All of the executions will take place in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, this July or August.

Last July, the Trump administration announced the resumption of federal executions after concluding a review by the Obama administration that had previously put a halt to them in 2014. The review had been spurred by an Oklahoman execution that lasted over an hour due to a bungled IV insertion.

The resumption of federal executions last summer was initially prevented by a district court’s injunction. However, this April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated that injunction.

“The four murderers whose executions are scheduled today have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws,” said Attorney General Barr in a press release this Monday from the DOJ. He continued, “We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

All four men scheduled for execution were convicted of murdering children. Two of the men also were convicted of raping the children they murdered.

According to the DOJ press release from Monday, Daniel Lee Lewis was a member of a white supremacy group who murdered a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl, in 1996.

However, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Paul Branch, the brother of Nancy Mueller, the slain mother, said that Chevie Kehoe, Lee’s accomplice, “was the one who most deserved the death penalty because he was more evil than his counterpart.”

Additionally, according to the Gazette-Democrat, Lee’s lawyer, Ruth Friedman of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, wrote this Monday that Lee “has long since renounced the skinhead groups he joined as a youth, and the government has now dramatically re-characterized its case against Mr. Lee.”

In May 1999, Lee was found guilty by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and sentenced to death.

Lee’s execution is scheduled for July 13, 2020.

According to the DOJ press release from Monday, the second man to be executed, Wesley Ira Purkey, “violently raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl, and then dismembered, burned, and dumped the young girl’s body in a septic tank.”

Purkey was also convicted in state court of using a hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year old woman who walked with a cane due to polio.

In November 2003, Purkey was found guilty by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri of kidnapping a child, resulting in the child’s death, and sentenced to death.

Purkey’s execution is scheduled for July 15, 2020.

According to the DOJ press release, the third man to be executed, Dustin Lee Honken, “shot and killed five people — two men who planned to testify against him, and a single, working mother and her 10-year-old and six-year-old daughters.”

In October 2004, Honken was found guilty by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa for five counts of murder during the course of a continuing criminal enterprise, and was sentenced to death.

Honken’s execution is scheduled for July 17, 2020.

The last man scheduled to be executed as of now, Keith Dwayne Nelson, according to the DOJ press release, “kidnapped a 10-year-old girl rollerblading in front of her home, and in a forest behind a church, raped her and strangled her to death with a wire.”

In October 2001, Nelson was found guilty by a jury also in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri for the kidnapping and unlawful interstate transportation of a child for the purpose of sexual abuse which resulted in death. He was sentenced to death.

Nelson’s execution is scheduled for August 28, 2020.

Since 1963, the United States has executed three Americans: Timothy McVeigh in June 2001, Juan Raul Garza in June 2001, and Louis Jones Jr. in March 2003.

McVeigh carried out the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 others. He was convicted of murdering eight federal employees.

Garza, who smuggled marijuana, was convicted of murdering three people as part of a continuing criminal enterprise in. In 1993, then-Attorney General William Barr approved the intention by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas to seek the death penalty.

Garza appealed his death sentence on the grounds that the jurors were allegedly not told that they could sentence him to life in prison instead of death and because they were told that he was accused of four murders in Mexico.

Jones Jr., a former United States Army soldier, was sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a United States Army solider in 1995.

Jones Jr. argued that he shouldn’t be sentenced to death because he suffered from Gulf War syndrome.

All three of these men were executed in the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

When the DOJ initially announced the resumption of the federal death penalty last July, Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), issued a scathing response.

“Under no circumstances should the Justice Department be allowed to rush through executions,” began Stubbs.

Stubbs continued on to say, “The federal death penalty is defined by the same problems of racial bias, geographic disparities, prosecutorial misconduct, and junk science that have led to the decline in support for capital punishment nationwide.”

She then stated, “We’re seeing bipartisan movements all around the country — led by racial justice groups, faith communities, conservatives, and others — fight to repeal the death penalty in their states,” and that the ACLU will challenge this action by the Department of Justice.

“The DOJ is on the wrong side of history again,” concluded Stubbs.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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