Victims’ Family Opposes Federal Execution of Daniel Lee


Video by Mrs. Earlene Peterson

The victims’ family is asking the federal government to commute the sentence of Daniel Lee, who is scheduled to be executed on December 9 for the murder of Nancy, William, and eight-year-old Sarah Mueller.

Nancy’s mother, Earlene Branch Peterson, created a six-minute video imploring the president to grant clemency to Mr. Lee. “I believe you have to pay for what you do,” she said. “But that don’t mean death.”

Mrs. Peterson explains in the video that everyone in the courtroom, including herself, was prejudiced against Daniel Lee — who is missing one eye and has Nazi tattoos on his neck — from the moment they saw him.

In contrast, codefendant Chevie Kehoe was clean-cut and dressed “like a young businessman,” Mrs. Peterson recalls. The judge described Mr. Kehoe as “the ringleader” in the crime and evidence showed he killed Sarah after Daniel Lee refused to do it, but the jury sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole.

After Mr. Kehoe was sentenced to life, the New York Times reports, prosecutors decided not to seek death for Mr. Lee. The victims’ family members agreed. But the Justice Department overruled them, and the jury sentenced Mr. Lee to death.

“We were shocked,” Mrs. Peterson’s granddaughter, Monica Veillette, told the Times. “Shocked. That he got death. And Chevie didn’t.”

Ms. Veillette has been asking federal officials to change Mr. Lee’s sentence for years. Her mother, Kimma Gurel, whose sister Nancy was killed in the crime, strongly agrees that Mr. Lee should not be executed. William Mueller’s son Scott doesn’t support or oppose the execution. He told the Times: “It don’t really matter to me whether they kill him or not.”

The Times reports that both the lead prosecutor in the trial and the trial judge wrote to then-Attorney General Eric Holder to express concerns about Mr. Lee’s sentence. Former Assistant United States Attorney Dan Stripling wrote in 2014 that he believed in capital punishment, but was disturbed by the randomness of its imposition. Mr. Lee’s death sentence, he wrote, “perfectly illustrates this inexplicable randomness.”

And Judge G. Thomas Eisele wrote in 2015 that he had second-guessed his decisions ever since and was left “with the firm conviction that justice was not served in this particular case, solely with regard to the sentence of death imposed on Daniel Lewis Lee,” the Times reports.

The federal government has not carried out an execution since 2003. In July, Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the government will resume executions. Five people are scheduled to be executed in December and January, he said, starting with Daniel Lee.

“We owe it to the victims and their families,” Mr. Barr said, “to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

But Mrs. Peterson believes the government owes it to her family to heed their plea to stop the execution. “The government ain’t doing this for me,” she said, “’cause I would say no.”

“I can’t see how executing Daniel Lee will honor my daughter in any way,” she explained. “In fact, it’s kinda like it dirties her name. Because she wouldn’t want it and I don’t want it.”

Mrs. Peterson, a firm supporter of the president, has requested an opportunity to tell him in person that the sentences were not fair.

“I hope and pray President Trump will give him clemency,” she said. “That would help me and my family more than anything.”