Daniel Lewis Lee (Execution of)
Convicted along with an accomplice of a triple murder and robbery that took place in Arkansas, Daniel Lewis Lee was executed by the U.S. government on July 14, 2020.
Lee was born on January 31, 1973, in Yukon, Oklahoma. His mother said that he suffered from seizures and a neurological impairment. He spent time in mental health facilities but was removed at least once due to violence toward staff members. At the age of seventeen, Lee participated in the murder of twenty-two-year-old Joseph Wavra III in Oklahoma City. He pleaded guilty to a robbery charge, the murder charge was dropped, and he received a five-year suspended sentence. At some point before April 1996, Lee lost his left eye, reportedly in a bar fight after using a racial slur against a Native American.
Lee met Chevie Kehoe in August or September 1995. The white supremacist Kehoe wished to create a white ethno-state in the Pacific Northwest based on Christian Identity theology. To fulfill this mission, Kehoe create an organization known as the Aryan Peoples’ Republic or the Aryan Peoples’ Resistance. Lee became an active member of white supremacy organizations in the Pacific Northwest and was well known for his aggressive nature, white power tattoos, and missing eye, which led to the nickname of Cyclops.
Kehoe’s parents lived in Arkansas near Kingston (Madison County), and he spent some time in the state, although most of his exploits focused on Washington state. In February 1995, Kehoe stole a trailer near Harrison (Boone County) and took it to his parents’ property. On February 12, 1995, Kehoe and his father burglarized the home of William and Nancy Mueller of Tilly (Pope County). The Muellers were not home at the time, and the Kehoes stole about $50,000 of property, including coins and firearms. Kehoe knew the Muellers from their involvement in gun shows across the country.
Kehoe returned to Washington state, where he participated in the kidnapping and robbery of a couple and used some of the money from that crime to buy land in Idaho. Lee and Kehoe departed Washington in late December 1995 or early January 1996, telling friends that they planned to travel to Idaho. Instead, the pair traveled to Arizona, where they spent time with Kehoe’s parents before going to Oklahoma to see Lee’s mother. They departed Yukon, Oklahoma, around 6:00 p.m. on January 10, 1996, headed to Arkansas.
Arriving at the home while the Mueller family was away, Kehoe and Lee—dressed as federal law enforcement officers—broke in and hid. They attacked when the family returned, restraining William and Nancy Mueller and Nancy’s eight-year-old daughter Sarah Powell. Questioning Sarah about the location of firearms and money within the house, the men used a stun gun or cattle prod on all three victims. After locating the items, Kehoe and Lee placed plastic bags over the heads of the Muellers and Powell, securing the bags with duct tape and causing the suffocation of all three. Kehoe and Lee transported the bodies of their victims to Illinois Bayou, where they used rocks to sink the bodies. (The remains of the Muellers and Powell were found about six months later, on June 28, 1996, in Lake Dardanelle.)
Returning to Spokane, Washington, by January 14, 1996, the two men divided up the loot, which included cash, coins, numerous firearms, firearm parts, gun display cases, and ammunition. Kehoe later estimated that the cash and gold stolen totaled about $50,000 and that the guns and associated items totaled about $30,000. Lee received between $3,000 and $4,000 and a pistol for his participation in the crime. The weapons were distributed among several locations across the Pacific Northwest, and Kehoe told acquaintances that the items had come from a gun dealer who went out of business. Kehoe began traveling to gun shows to sell some of the items. In April 1996, Lee and Kehoe bombed the Spokane City Hall but caused little damage and no casualties.
Mueller had registered the serial numbers of at least some of the weapons, and the first one turned up about a month after the robbery. The man arrested with the weapon while trying to sell it told authorities that he obtained it from Kehoe’s father. It turned out to be the personal weapon of Nancy Mueller.
Both Lee and Kehoe confessed to the murders and robbery to Kehoe’s mother in February 1996. On December 10, 1996, Lee’s former roommate was arrested in South Dakota with a rifle registered to Mueller. He told authorities that he obtained the weapon from Kehoe and later called Lee to inform him that authorities knew about the weapon. On December 11, 1996, Lee departed Washington for Oklahoma, while Kehoe and his family also fled.
After confessing his part in the crime to his brother, Kehoe and his family traveled to multiple states in an effort to sell some of the weapons at a gun show. Kehoe planned to meet Lee in Kentucky in early 1997, but Lee did not appear. On February 15, 1997, Kehoe and his brother engaged in a gun fight with law enforcement officers in Wilmington, Ohio. Both escaped, and Kehoe engaged in another shootout the same day before escaping again.
Kehoe and Lee were both arrested in 1997 and charged with multiple crimes, including participating in a racketeering enterprise, conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise, and murder in aid of racketeering. Lee had been arrested at the home of his mother in Yukon, while Kehoe had been arrested in Utah after his brother offered information leading to his arrest. Both men were tried in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Lee was violent and had assaulted his mother, sister, and pregnant girlfriend, in addition to the murder he was involved in as a teenager. Both men were convicted, and while Kehoe received three life sentences, Lee was ultimately sentenced to death.
The judge in the case resisted sentencing Lee to death and ordered another sentencing hearing. A federal appeals court ruled in 2001 that Lee must be sentenced to death, and the original judge in the case finally did so the next year. He later wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, expressing his opposition to the sentence imposed on Lee due to his belief that Kehoe was the ringleader of the crime and that Lee simply followed. Relatives of Nancy Mueller and Sarah Powell also opposed the death penalty for Lee. Prosecutors argued that Lee’s history of violence demonstrated that he deserved the death penalty.
In the days leading up to his execution, several appeals were launched to halt the proceedings. Members of Lee’s family claimed that holding the execution during the COVID-19 pandemic placed them at risk of contracting the virus. It was overruled by the Seventh Circuit of Appeals. Another appeal claimed that the lethal injection protocol had not yet been fully litigated in other cases, as it used only a single dose of pentobarbital rather than the more common three-drug cocktail. This appeal led to a stay that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, five to four.
Lee was scheduled to be executed at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on July 13, 2020, at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Multiple appeals postponed the event until early the following morning. Rescheduled for 4:15 a.m. on July 14, the execution finally began at 7:46 a.m. Lee claimed he was innocent shortly before the execution began. He was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. His remains were cremated.
William Mueller is buried in the Nogo Cemetery in Nogo (Pope County), while Nancy Mueller and Sarah Powell are buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Hector (Pope County). Kehoe remained in federal prison as of 2023. Lee was the first federal inmate executed since 2003 and was the first of ten executed in 2020.
For additional information:
Balsamo, Michael. “One Reporter, Witness to Two Executions, Haunting Last Words.” Denver Post, July 18, 2020. https://www.denverpost.com/2020/07/18/executions-witness-haunting-last-words/ (accessed February 8, 2023).
Casey, Paula. “Amended Notice of Intent to Seek a Sentence of Death.” U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, March 20, 1998. https://fdprc.capdefnet.org/sites/cdn_fdprc/files/Assets/public/notices_of_intent/lee_-_ed_ar_-_amended.pdf (accessed February 8, 2023).
Cheney-Rice, Zac. “The Capricious Execution of Daniel Lewis Lee.” New York Magazine, July 15, 2020. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/daniel-lewis-lee-was-executed-in-capricious-fashion.html (accessed February 8, 2023).
Fuchs, Hailey. “Government Carries Out First Federal Execution in 17 Years.” New York Times, July 14, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/daniel-lewis-lee-execution-crime.html (accessed February 8, 2023).
Holt, Tony. “Sentencing Baffles Lawyers, Victims’ Kin.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 2020, pp. 1A, 4A. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jul/15/sentencing-baffles-lawyers-victims-kin/ (accessed February 8, 2023).
Morlin, Bill. “Executed Killer was a Menacing Skinhead at Aryan Nations Compound in North Idaho.” Spokesman-Review, July 14, 2020. https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/jul/14/executed-killer-was-a-menacing-skinhead-at-aryan-n/ (accessed February 8, 2023).
Southeastern Louisiana University
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