Daniel Lewis Lee died this morning.
That’s unremarkable, by itself. Roughly 150,000 people die every day.
Cause of death varies. Diseases kill some of us. Others die in accidents. Civil authorities kill those who deserve death. In their government’s opinion.
A lethal overdose of pentobarbital, administered under the authority of the U.S. Federal government, killed Daniel Lewis Lee.
There’s a sort of poetic justice in that.
A court convicted Lee of at least helping Chevie Kehoe kill William and Nancy Mueller and Sarah Powell.
Seems that after using a stun gun on their victims, Lee and/or Kehoe put plastic bags over their heads. Sealing the bags with duct tape, ensuring that they’d suffocate.
Oddly enough, I’ve yet to see the incident used as evidence that we should ban plastic bags and duct tape. Or stun guns. And that’s another topic.
The point is that our legal system convicted Lee and Kehoe of suffocating their victims.
That makes pentobarbital an appropriate poison, in an ‘eye for an eye’ sense.
Pentobarbital affects the central nervous system. In smallish doses, it’ll help someone sleep, or numb pain.
In large doses, pentobarbital stops respiration: resulting in death.1
As I see it, there’s no reasonable doubt that someone killed William, Nancy and Sarah.
The odds are that Daniel Lee and/or Chevie Kehoe are responsible.
Chevie Kehoe and his family apparently took property from the William Mueller home to Spokane, Washington. And were caught.
Chevie Kehoe was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Local prosecutors wanted the same sentence for Daniel Lee.
An assortment of federal attorneys wanted Lee dead: legally executed. They apparently followed my country’s proper procedures, and eventually got what they wanted.2
Why federal officials wanted Lee’s execution, that I don’t know. What I do know suggests at least two (perhaps unlikely) motives.
News media says Daniel Lee was a white supremacist. Maybe federal officials wanted to make an example of him, showing that the government isn’t racist.
One of the victims was a gun dealer. Maybe the federal officials are minions of the gun lobby, seeking to please their masters.
Either of those hypothetical motives might play well for some audiences. I don’t have nearly enough information to know why the feds wanted Lee dead.
That his execution was conducted under federal, not state, authority? That, I’m sure of.
I’m also reasonably certain that the case against Daniel Lee was less rickety than what convicted Leo Frank in 1913. (March 19, 2018)
I’ll assume that he knew Chevie Kehoe. Maybe he’s at least partly responsible for the 1996 murders.
By standards that were more widely accepted in my youth, Daniel Lewis Lee deserved death. Assuming that he did, in fact, commit those murders.
He says he didn’t.
Which strikes me as a bit odd. Assuming that the “white supremacist” label is applicable. And assuming that Dylann Roof is a typical white supremacist. (January 11, 2017)
Daniel Lewis Lee’s last words, officially:
“… ‘I didn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’m not a murderer. You’re killing an innocent man’….”
(Ariane de Vogue, Chandelis Duster, David Shortell, CNN (July 14, 2020))
Killing someone who was at least partly responsible for a relative’s death is, apparently, supposed to make survivors feel better.
There’s arguably some truth in that.
If someone killed my wife, children or grandchild, I might feel like killing the murderer. As slowly and painfully as possible.
Emphasis on “feel like.” Emotions are one thing. Decisions are another. (June 6, 2020)
That self-knowledge helps me sympathize with folks who express desires that the avenging sword of justice slay miscreants, malefactors and murderers.
But I think Monica Veillette and other relatives of the 1996 murder victims have the right idea.
Statement by Monica Veillette, relative of a victim, via KTUL
“…’She [Monica Viellette] said other relatives want to witness the execution to counter the government’s argument that it’s being done on their behalf.
“‘For us it is a matter of being there and saying, “This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,”‘…”
(Andrew DeMillo/Associated Press, KTUL News (July 13, 2020))
I figure many folks would agree with that.
Although I think there’s less consensus on who qualifies as a person and what “innocent” means. And that’s yet another topic.
I think murder is wrong because human life is sacred, a gift from God. Each of our lives matter, no matter how young or old, healthy or sick we are. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258, 2261, 2268–2283)
That’s why I’m obliged to see Daniel Lewis Lee as a person. One whose life mattered.
Responsibility and justice matter, too.
The Catholic Church says killing a murderer is okay. Sometimes. If the killer’s guilt is reasonably certain. And if killing the killer really is the only option for protecting innocent lives. (Catechism, 2267)
America doesn’t have the highest per capita wealth in the world. But we’re not a poverty-stricken nation, either.
I very strongly suspect that keeping a convicted murderer alive, but imprisoned, is possible for at least most American states and for the federal government.
Someone who’s convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole may die in prison.
But there’s a chance that years, decades, later someone will notice that the convicted murderer isn’t guilty.
After that, there’s a chance that the courts will decide to let the non-murderer out of prison. Maybe even with a ‘sorry about that’ note.
When someone has been legally killed, the courts can issue a ‘sorry about that’ note. But I’d be surprised if anyone seriously believes that a judge could say “by the power of the United States Supreme Court, arise! Come forth!!”
Actually, a judge could say those words. But they wouldn’t restore life to a corpse.
Aside from lowering the odds that a legal system will end innocent lives, keeping murderers alive but restrained gives them time for reflection.
And a perhaps-remote chance of repentance.
Take Alessandro Serenelli, for example.
In 1902, he was a wannabe rapist/seducer who inflicted eventually-fatal injuries on 11 year old Maria Goretti.
Maria lived long enough to give testimony. And to forgive Alessandro. She was recognized as a Saint in 1950.
Alessandro was tried, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. His sentence would have been life in prison if he’d been a year older.
While in prison, Alessandro decided that murder and attempted rape were bad ideas. And that he shouldn’t have done either.
He was released after 27 years in prison, his sentence cut short due to World War I and his exemplary behavior.
Alessandro then begged Maria’s mother to forgive him. Which she did, citing her daughter’s forgiveness as a precedent. Several odd jobs later, Alessandro found a home in a monastery.3
Maybe he’s innocent, and would eventually have been released from prison.
Or maybe Daniel Lewis Lee really is a murderer, and would eventually have acknowledged his guilt. Maybe even recognized that murder is a bad idea and that he shouldn’t have done it.
I’ve no idea which of those possibilities is more likely. What’s certain is that he’s dead, which makes the question somewhat moot.
I suspect that many murderers wouldn’t follow Alessandro’s example. Or maybe they would.
I am certain that killing them gives them far less time to think about their actions. And that my country can protect the public without killing prisoners.
I’ve talked about this before:
- “Death Came to Dayton”
(August 6, 2019)
- “Murders, Life and Death”
(March 19, 2018)
- “Death in Las Vegas, and Life”
(October 2, 2017)
- “Deciding Who Dies”
(January 11, 2017)
- “Celebrating Mercy”
(November 21, 2016)