Feds to restart federal executions, puts infamous Arkansas murders back in spotlight

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 2,913 views 

At the behest of President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr on Thursday (July 25) directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to adopt a new execution protocol that will allow the federal government to resume capital punishment for the first time since 2003.

In a news release issued U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Barr directed BOP Acting Director Hugh Hurwitz to schedule the executions of five death-row inmates convicted of murder and other heinous crimes, including Arkansas white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee who was convicted in 1999 by a federal jury in Little Rock of murdering a family of three after robbing and shooting them and then throwing their bodies Illinois River bayou in northeast Arkansas.

At President Trump’s urging, Lee is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 9, 2019, the first of five lethal injections that will take place at the end of this year and in early 2020. The last federal execution took place on March 18, 2003, when Louis Jones Jr. died of lethal injection after being convicted for the rape and murder of a female Army private. The most famous execution in the past decades occurred in June 2001 when Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh died by lethal injection after pleading guilty on all counts of masterminding the 1995 domestic terroristic attack.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr said in a statement. “Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding. The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

Under U.S. death penalty protocol, the U.S. Attorney General is the ultimate decision maker on the question of whether the government will seek the death penalty or withdraw a previously filed death notice. Lee was originally convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock of murder in aid of racketeering. After Barr directed the Justice Department to restore federal executions in the federal justice system, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said most Americans believe the death penalty is “just” in the most heinous crimes.

“I commend the president and Attorney General Barr for reinstating the federal death penalty in order to carry out sentences imposed on five brutal murderers by juries of their peers,” Cotton said in a statement. “After many years of unnecessary delay, justice will soon be done for these criminals’ many victims, including the Mueller family of Tilly, Ark.”

In the infamous case that brought attention to white supremacist enclaves in Arkansas, federal prosecutors convicted Lee and Chevie Kehoe in May 1999 of murdering Tilly, Ark., gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy Ann Mueller, and his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell.

In evidence presented at the federal courtroom in Little Rock when the case came to trial in early 1998, prosecutors said the two men met in 1995, and Kehoe recruited him into the Aryan People’s Republic, violent white supremacist group that also had ties to McVeigh. In January 1996, Lee and Kehoe left the state of Washington and traveled to Arkansas where they dressed in police raid clothing and visited Mueller, who owned a large collection of weapons and ammunition.

Kehoe and his father had earlier robbed Mueller in February 1995, and Kehoe planned to find valuable property at his house. The Muellers were not at home when Lee and Kehoe arrived so they waited. When the Muellers returned, Lee and Kehoe overpowered and incapacitated Mueller and his wife. After finding $50,000 in cash, guns and ammunition, they shot the three victims with a stun gun, placed plastic bags over their heads, and sealed the bags with duct tape.

They then took the victims in Kehoe’s vehicle to the Illinois bayou, where they taped rocks onto them and threw them into the bayou. The bodies were discovered in Lake Dardanelle near Russellville in late June 1996. Kehoe and Lee returned to Spokane with the stolen property and later traveled to several states to sell the Mueller property at gun shows.

About a year later in Ohio, Kehoe and his brother Cheyne were involved in highly publicized shootout with two state troopers after they were stopped for driving too slowly and erratically on the road and found the license plate and registration had expired. The shootout was recorded on the Ohio trooper’s dashboard camera and was widely broadcast on national news.

Kehoe and Lee were apprehended by law enforcement in 1997 after some of Mueller’s guns had been traced to Kehoe, who prosecutors said was the ringleader of the cross-country crime spree by the white supremacist. Following a two-month trial in early 1999, Lee and Kehoe were convicted by a jury of capital murder counts, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Although Lee has sought new trials or attempted to vacate his conviction and death sentence in the grisly 1996 murders in the rural Pope County community, all those appeals have been dismissed. His latest request for a new trial came in late 2018 before the now-retired U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes, but that appeal was denied in February.

Along with Lee’s scheduled execution date in December, DOJ officials have requested federal prison officials also schedule upcoming executions for the following four other federal prisoners.
• Lezmond Mitchell, who stabbed to death a 63-year-old grandmother and forced her nine-year-old granddaughter to sit beside her lifeless body for a 30- to 40-mile drive. Mitchell then slit the girl’s throat twice, crushed her head with 20-pound rocks, and severed and buried both victims’ heads and hands. Mitchell’s execution is scheduled to occur on Dec. 11, 2019.

• Wesley Ira Purkey, who violently raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl, and then dismembered, burned, and dumped the young girl’s body in a septic pond. He also was convicted in state court for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane. Purkey’s execution is scheduled for Dec. 13, 2019.

• Alfred Bourgeois, who physically and emotionally tortured, sexually molested, and then beat to death his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. He is scheduled for execution on Jan. 13, 2020.

• Dustin Lee Honken, who shot and killed five people – two men who planned to testify against him and a single, working mother and her ten-year-old and six-year-old daughters. His execution is scheduled to occur on Jan. 15, 2020.

DOJ officials said each of the inmates have exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies, and no legal impediments prevent their executions, which will take place at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Ind. Additional executions will be scheduled at a later date, officials said.

The DOJ plans one-drug execution protocol, not Arkansas’ controversial 3-drug cocktail. Barr’s request for the new federal executive protocol, which closely mirrors protocols used by several states, including Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, replaces the three-drug procedure previously used in federal executions with a single drug – pentobarbital. DOJ officials said 14 states have used pentobarbital in more than 200 executions since 2010, noting that several federal courts and the Supreme Court and several federal courts have repeatedly upheld the use of pentobarbital in executions as consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

The new federal drug protocol could put the spotlight back on Arkansas’ efforts to retool and restart executions in the summer of 2017. In the recent 2019 legislative session that ended in May, a new law was passed by the 92nd General Assembly that would further veil the confidentiality of lethal drugs used in Arkansas executions.

Earlier in the summer of 2017, Arkansas received national attention after Gov. Asa Hutchinson set executive dates two at a time for eight inmates over an 11-day period before the state’s supply of  the lethal injection drug midazolam expired. Eventually, four Arkansas inmates died of lethal injections, three executions were stayed, and one death row prisoner was granted clemency by the governor.

In late 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas Department of Corrections officials must reveal the pharmaceutical package inserts and labels for its supply of midazolam. That came after the state high court halted a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Mackie Pierce that the legislature could not shield information about the drugs used to carry out executions.

State Correction officials later acquired a new supply of midazolam, the controversial sedative that is part of the state’s three-drug execution protocol. Vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer that causes paralysis, is the second drug used in ADC’s execution protocol, while potassium chloride stops the heart and causes death.

Although the state doesn’t have a new slate of scheduled executions, the supply of lethal injection drugs expired again in early January 2019, according to the Associated Press. Under the Act 810 of 2019 sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, any person that “recklessly discloses” documents or records concerning the state’s capital punishment procedures involving lethal injection drugs directly or indirectly “is guilty of a Class D felony.”