Op-Ed By Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Senator Tom Cotton
This summer, President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr resumed the federal death penalty for five brutal murderers, including a white supremacist who murdered a family of three right here in Arkansas.
The federal death penalty has been in a de facto moratorium since 2003. Attorney General Barr's announcement will end this misguided moratorium and align the federal capital-crimes process more closely with the policy of our state and many others.
Though we understand some Arkansans have principled objections to the death penalty, we believe the ultimate punishment is warranted for the most heinous murderers. Capital punishment can help bring closure for victims' families, deter other would-be murderers, and express the moral outrage of our society for the most atrocious crimes.
Consider the case of Daniel Lewis Lee, one of the five convicted murderers whose execution will now proceed. Lee belonged to a white-supremacist group called the Aryan People's Revolution. According to court filings, "the group believed that whites were the chosen race, [and] that Jews were the devil's children and should die."
After a crime spree, Lee and a companion robbed the home of William Mueller in northern Pope County. It was early January 1996, just a few weeks after Christmas. When Mueller returned home with his young wife and their 8-year-old daughter, Lee and his companion overpowered them. But it wasn't enough to take their loot and leave.
They duct-taped the family's hands and tortured them, repeatedly shocking them with stun guns until they passed out. Then they duct-taped their heads in plastic garbage bags, suffocating them to death. After murdering the Mueller family in cold blood, they tied rocks to their corpses and dumped them in a bayou. Lee later joked that he had put the Muellers "on a liquid diet."
For such a barbaric crime, simple justice demands that Daniel Lewis Lee and murderers like him face the ultimate punishment, which truly fits the crime. Further, the death penalty in this case warns criminals to stop short of murder, lest they face execution. The death penalty also ends a horrific and prolonged period of pain and justice delayed for a victim's loved ones--in a case where Lee doesn't even deny his guilt.
In 1999, 12-year-old Andi Brewer--a beautiful and joyful young girl--was raped and murdered by Karl Roberts of Polk County. Roberts confessed to the crime. Even his attorneys don't claim that he's innocent. Yet 20 years later, Andi's family is still waiting for justice. Her mother, state Rep. Rebecca Petty, was shocked to learn that Roberts was even selling prison art from death row while his case dragged on. Resuming federal executions will relieve at least a few families of the pain that Representative Petty has endured for years.
A decent society must respond decisively to crime in order to preserve law and order. For the most severe crimes, where innocent life has been stolen, even life in prison can be an inadequate punishment. As we know from too many cases, prisoners can escape (or get parole), murder prison guards, or enjoy from behind bars some of life's pleasures that their innocent victims will never enjoy again.
The decision to reinstate the federal death penalty will ensure that justice is served in five terrible, bloody cases. It will reassure law-abiding citizens that our government has the will to protect them from violence. And it will remind criminals that justice may be delayed, even for years, but it cannot be avoided.
That's why we welcome the decision by the president and Attorney General Barr.