Peterson v. Barr, No. 20-2252 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In 1996 Lee murdered an Arkansas family of three in pursuit of funds for a white supremacist organization. Lee was convicted of capital murder in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. 1959(a)(1), and sentenced to death. His execution was scheduled for December 9, 2019, but was stayed by one district judge in connection with Lee’s 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas petition, and another who was hearing a challenge to the federal execution protocol. In December 2019, the Seventh Circuit vacated the stay in the section 2241 proceeding. The D.C. Circuit vacated the injunction in the execution-protocol case in April 2020. Lee’s execution was rescheduled for July 13.
On July 7, family members of the victims sought an injunction; they want to attend the execution although they oppose it. The Warden authorized them to be witnesses, but they object to carrying out the execution during the COVID-19 pandemic. They raise health concerns, citing age, underlying medical conditions, and the need to travel interstate to reach the Terre Haute prison. A district judge issued a preliminary injunction.
The Seventh Circuit vacated that injunction, finding the Administrative Procedures Act claim frivolous. The challenged action—setting an execution date—may not be judicially reviewable; the Bureau of Prisons observed the minimal regulatory requirements and has the unconstrained discretion to choose an execution date. In addition, the plaintiffs have no statutory or regulatory right to attend the execution and are not “adversely affected or aggrieved,” 5 U.S.C. 702.