WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has ruled that the first federal execution in nearly two decades can proceed as scheduled on Monday.

The ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a lower court order that had put the execution of 47-year-old Daniel Lewis Lee on hold.

Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana. He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Friday in Indiana that the execution would be put on hold because of concerns from the family of the victims about the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 130,000 people and is ravaging prisons nationwide.

The Justice Department argued that the judge’s order misconstrued the law and asked the appeals court to immediately overturn the ruling.

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Prisons said Sunday that a staff member involved in preparing for the first federal executions has tested positive for coronavirus.

The Justice Department said the development will not mean an additional delay in the government’s timetable, already stalled by a federal court, because the worker had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialized team sent to the prison to handle the execution.

The agency made the disclosure in court filings in response to lawsuits that have sought to halt executions scheduled to resume Monday.

An attorney for the Bureau of Prisons said the staff member learned on Wednesday that the staffer had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member immediately left work and notified the bureau Saturday about the positive test, according to the court filing.

The staff member did not wear a mask at all times during meetings with other Bureau of Prisons employees and other law enforcement officials in the days before learning of the exposure, the agency said. The bureau says the staff member did not enter the execution facility or the prison’s command center and left the facility before the dozens of Bureau of Prisons employees who are part of the team handling the executions arrived at Terre Haute.

The Bureau of Prisons also started contact tracing to identify other staff members who may have had contact with the employee who tested positive, officials said.


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