First Federal Execution in the United States since 2003
Federal Crimes – Death Penalty -In 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee and his accomplice, Chevie Kehoe, tortured and murdered a family of three Jewish descent in Searcy County, Arkansas. They were found guilty of several offenses, including three counts of murder on May 4, 1999, by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. After trial, Kehoe was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; however, Lee was sentenced to death and has remained on death row ever since. His execution will be the first U.S. federal execution since 2003.
A death sentence is very rare at the federal level. In 1972, the death penalty was outlawed both at the state and federal level. In 1976, the Supreme Court allowed states to impose the death penalty. It was not until 1988 that the death penalty became an available sentence at the federal level. However, even though since that time 78 people of been sentenced to death in federal cases, only three have been executed with the last one 17 years ago. Currently, 62 inmates are on death row. Over the last 17 years, in each Presidential administration before the Trump administration, there has been a de facto moratorium on the death penalty. The Trump administration has said it would resume federal executions.
The irony here is that the family of the three victims that were murdered have long opposed the execution of Lee. They have argued that Lee ought to be sentenced to life in prison, as was his accomplice Kehoe. Earlene Peterson, 81, whose daughter was killed by Lee, said in a video statement last year, “Yes, Daniel Lee damaged my life, but I can’t believe taking his life is going to change any of that.” She, along with other relatives of the victims, sought to put a hold on the execution arguing that attending the execution could expose them to the coronavirus. This was a very novel argument where a lower district court agreed and stayed the execution. The Trump Administration appealed the lower district court’s decision to stay the execution. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the stay of execution, concluding that no federal statute or regulation gave the victims the right to attend the execution and the family’s claim “lacks any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.” The relatives of the victims appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on July 14, 2020, shortly after 2:00 a.m., the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 opinion cleared the way for the resumption of the federal death penalty. Lee was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. EST. This will now pave the way for other federal executions to move forward, including two other convicted murderers for later part of July 2020 and another in August 2020. In a separate dissent, also joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer raised the more open question about the constitutionality of capital punishment. Justice Breyer writes, “The death penalty is often imposed arbitrarily. Mr. Lee’s co-defendant in his capital case was sentenced to life imprisonment despite committing the same crime.”
Attorney Baku Patel has defended eight clients where the state was seeking the death penalty. In order to guarantee defendants, where the state was seeking the death penalty, were provided with effective defense representation, Illinois created the Capital Litigation Trial Bar.Federal Crimes – Death Penalty- The Illinois Supreme Court would certify a very select few, highly qualified private criminal defense attorneys throughout the state who would be appointed to such cases. Attorney Patel was chosen to the highly selective Capital Litigation Trial Bar. Judges throughout Central Illinois appointed Attorney Patel from the list to represent the eight clients facing the death penalty. Of course, these were extremely challenging cases and required hundreds of hours of time and investigation. None of the eight clients received the death penalty. Actually, by aggressively and defending all of his clients, none of them even received a life sentence. Each and every one of Mr. Patel’s murder cases has resulted in either full acquittal, dismissal of charges, reduction of charges, a jury verdict for lesser included charges, or parole eligible sentences. On March 9, 2011, Illinois abolished the death penalty after 13 men who were sentenced to death were actually innocent and wrongly condemned.
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