A white supremacist has been killed by lethal injection in the first US federal execution for nearly two decades.
Daniel Lewis Lee, who tortured and murdered a couple and their eight-year-old daughter and dumped them in water, was executed at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“I didn’t do it,” he said just before he was killed.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer… You’re killing an innocent man.”
Lee’s execution was postponed by a district court yesterday over a legal challenge against a new injection protocol, but in the early hours the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it could go ahead.
Federal executions are rare – the vast majority are carried out by individual states – with only three since 1988 and the last in 2003.
Relatives of those killed by Lee in 1996 had wanted him to get a life sentence and said the execution wasn’t being done in their name.
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Lee was recruited into a white supremacist group called the Aryan Peoples Republic in 1995 by co-defendant Chevie Kehoe.
Two years later, they were arrested for killing gun dealer William Mueller and his wife and daughter in Tilly, Arkansas.
They stole guns and $50,000 from the family as part of a plan to set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest, said prosecutors at their 1999 trial.
Lee and Kehoe are said to have tortured their victims, using stun guns and putting plastic bags over their heads.
Rocks were attached to their bodies and they were dumped in a nearby bayou.
Despite being the apparent ringleader, Kehoe received a life sentence for his part in the killings.
Lee was pronounced dead at 8.07am eastern US time on Tuesday.
The victims’ family had wanted to be present at the execution in order to make clear their objections to the sentence.
“For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” relative Monica Veillette said.
US Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had a duty to resolve the legal wrangling and carry out the sentences.
Civil rights groups fought the execution and critics claimed the government was moving forward for political gain.
Two other federal executions are scheduled for later this week, although one is on hold pending a separate legal claim.
There have been two state executions since the coronavirus lockdown in mid-March, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
One was in Texas, the other Missouri. Alabama also carried one out in early March.
There were 22 state executions in 2019 (nine of them in Texas), according to DPIC figures. That is less than half than in 2004, when there were 59.
Federal executions now use one drug, pentobarbital, as opposed to the previous three-drug combination.
The change was signed off last year after outcry over a botched execution in 2014 prompted the Obama administration to order a review.
The attorney general said at the time that executions could resume on some of the 62 people on federal death row.