Update, 3:15 a.m. -- Tribune-Star reporter Lisa Trigg, one of the media witnesses for the execution, has been recalled to U.S. Penitentiary-Terre Haute. It now appears the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee is to take place this morning. 


The Supreme Court early today by a 5-4 vote cleared the way for the execution of federal death row inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute.

With conservatives in the majority, the court said in an unsigned opinion that the prisoners' “executions may proceed as planned.” The four liberal justices dissented.

Lee's execution was scheduled for about 4 a.m. EDT Tuesday, according to court papers.

The high court's actions removed a hold placed Monday afternoon by a district judge. They also overruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which late Monday had said the injunction should stay in place and which had ordered further briefings and was to schedule oral arguments.

Daniel Lewis Lee was scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT Monday. But an order preventing Lee’s execution was issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, remained in place.

The appeals court in Washington on Monday night then refused the Justice Department's plea to lift Judge Chutkan's order, saying the inmates' arguments did merit further consideration. 

Then, the Supreme Court justices voted to let the executions proceed.

pro-death penalty demonstrator

A pro-death penalty demonstrator expresses himself near U.S. Penitentiary-Terre Haute, where this afternoon's scheduled execution of Daniel Lewis Lee is on hold as prison officials wait to see if a judicial stay is lifted.

While Lee's lawyers said the execution could not go forward after midnight under federal regulations, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons was recalling media who had been issued credentials to witness the event.

Two more executions are scheduled this week, though one, Wesley Ira Purkey, was on hold in a separate legal claim. Dustin Lee Honken's execution was scheduled for Friday.

A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.

The execution of Lee at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute would be the first in 17 years.

For most of the day Monday, the Bureau of Prisons kept everyone in place as federal officials awaited word from the courts on whether they could proceed.

At the penitentiary, prison officials continued with preparations in order to move forward were the stay be lifted.

death penalty opponents

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza

Death penalty opponents protest near Third Street and Springhill Drive, not far from U.S. Penitentiary-Terre Haute, prior to the July 14 federal execution of Daniel Lewis Lee at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute. 

Lee had access to visitors, visited with his spiritual adviser and had been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said.

Prison officials declined to discuss Lee's last meal request, saying, "We're not here to sensationalize it."

The Bureau of Prisons said the witnesses for Lee and for the victims’ family have chosen not to make comments to the media following the execution.

Lee’s spiritual advisor, described as an Appalachian pagan minister, was allowed to be with him in the hours leading up to the planned execution.  

That building includes the execution chamber as well as a medical room and separate witness rooms for victim representatives, inmate representatives and media witnesses.

Federal Death Penalty-First Execution

The scheduled execution Monday afternoon of Daniel Lewis Lee, shown here in a 1997 file photo, was on hold at the federal prison in Terre Haute. Bureau of Prisons officials, however, had everyone -- including witnesses -- in place as they awaited word from the courts.

Lee was convicted in Arkansas in the killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old. The robbery and murders were part of a plot to obtain guns and money to establish a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest.

Editor's notes: This story, originally posted at 4:33 p.m. Monday, was updated with additional information at 11 p.m. Monday and again at 1:15 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. Tuesday.