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A federal appeals court ruled that the first federal execution in 17 years should go forward Monday, despite concerns raised by the victims’ family members that the resurgent coronavirus risked the health of those who planned to witness Daniel Lewis Lee’s death by lethal injection.

The court found that the family’s argument “lacks any arguable legal basis and is therefore frivolous.”

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on Friday sided with family members who asserted that the pandemic posed an unreasonable health risk to them as witnesses to execution in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety,” the attorney for the family said Sunday.

Reopening the federal death chamber: Victim opposition, pandemic threaten first execution in 17 years

The family had planned to attend Lee’s execution, even though they are opposed to Lee’s death sentence for the murders of William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her daughter, 8-year-old Sarah Powell.

Earlene Branch Peterson, 81, the young victim’s grandmother, and other family members have argued that Lee’s co-defendant was the unquestioned ringleader in the 1996 robbery-murder yet was sentenced to life in prison.

The Arkansas judge who presided at trial and the lead prosecutor in the case also have expressed their opposition to Lee’s death sentence.

“Because the government has scheduled the execution in the midst of a raging pandemic, these (family members) would have to put their lives at risk to travel cross-country at this time,” the family’s attorney said. “They will now appeal the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to seek reversal.  My clients hope the Supreme Court and the federal government will respect their right to be present at the execution and delay it until travel is safe enough to make that possible.”

In addition to Lee, two other inmates are scheduled for execution next week at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute.

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