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Lee v. Warden USP Terre Haute

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

December 5, 2019

WARDEN USP TERRE HAUTE, et al. Respondents.



         Daniel Lewis Lee is a federal prisoner on death row at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was sentenced to death 20 years ago in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas after a jury found him guilty of murdering a gun dealer and the gun dealer's family to steal money and guns. The conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. Mr. Lee sought postconviction relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the district court where he was convicted and sentenced. That request was denied by the district court and the court of appeals affirmed. Mr. Lee filed further § 2255 motions challenging his death sentence in the district court of conviction, but those challenges were denied on procedural grounds.

         Mr. Lee now seeks relief from this Court by way of a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and newly discovered evidence as the basis for the relief sought. Mr. Lee first argues that his trial counsel was ineffective during the penalty phase of his trial in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Mr. Lee next argues that newly discovered evidence shows that the United States violated his due process rights when it suppressed material evidence and misled the jury regarding the nature of a prior conviction. Mr. Lee seeks a stay of his execution and asks the Court to authorize him to conduct discovery.

         Mr. Lee is entitled to a stay of his execution based on his due process claims.[1] While further factual development is needed for the Court to be able to resolve the claims presented in Mr. Lee's petition, he has shown there is a significant possibility that he can bring these claims in a § 2241 action and substantial grounds for the claims. The other factors necessary to obtain a stay also weigh in Mr. Lee's favor. Accordingly, Mr. Lee's execution is stayed until further order of this Court.


         The following procedural background focuses on the facts relevant to Mr. Lee's due process claims.[2]

         A. The Indictment and Trial

         Mr. Lee and his co-defendant Chevie Kehoe were indicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. See United States v. Lee, No. 4:97-cr-00243-KGB-2 (E.D. Ark. Dec. 12, 1997), Dkt. 1. They were tried together and, following a two-month trial, the jury found both guilty of capital murder and racketeering. Lee II, 374 F.3d at 643. Mr. Lee and Mr. Kehoe each had a separate trial at the penalty phase.

         Mr. Kehoe's penalty phase trial was first, and the jury returned a verdict of life in prison without the possibility of release. Lee I, 274 F.3d at 488. The United States informed the District Court that, given this decision, it did not intend to continue pursuing the death penalty for Mr. Lee. Id. As later explained by the District Judge, “[t]here was no question that Kehoe was the more culpable of the two with regard to the criminal acts charged in the indictment and proved at trial.” Dkt. 1-2 at 3. But the Attorney General denied the United States Attorney's request to withdraw the death penalty with respect to Mr. Lee, Lee I, 274 F.3d at 488, so Mr. Lee's penalty phase proceeded. The jury found that the United States established four of the five aggravating factors it presented, Dkt. 1-10 at 5-8, and one or more jurors found that Mr. Lee established five of the fourteen mitigating factors he presented, id. at 9-10. The jury returned a verdict of death on May 14, 1999. Lee I, 274 F.3d at 488.

         B. Mr. Lee's Appeals and Collateral Attacks on His Conviction and Sentence

         Mr. Lee's conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. Lee II, 374 F.3d at 643. He then filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. That motion was denied, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed. See Lee III, 715 F.3d at 217; United States v. Lee, 2008 WL 4079315 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 28, 2008). Mr. Lee's Rule 60(b) motion was also denied, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed that decision as well. Lee IV, 792 F.3d at 1022; United States v. Lee, 2014 WL 1093197, *5-6 (E.D. Ark. Mar. 18, 2014).

         On September 10, 2018, Mr. Lee filed another § 2255 motion in the District Court. United States v. Lee, No. 4:97-cr-00243-KGB, Dkt. 1297 (E.D. Ark. Sept. 10, 2018). He argued that newly discovered evidence revealed that his due process rights as set forth in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), and Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959) (the “Brady and Napue claims”) were violated during the penalty phase of his trial. These are the claims that Mr. Lee now raises in his § 2241 petition before this Court. Neither claim was raised at the sentencing phase of his trial or in his first § 2255 petition.

         On February 26, 2019, the District Court denied the September 2018 § 2255 motion as an unauthorized successive § 2255 motion and denied Mr. Lee a certificate of appealability. Lee, No. 4:97-cr-00243-KGB, Dkt. 1313. The District Court held that another § 2255 motion raising material Brady claims constitutes a “second or successive” § 2255 motion, and thus Mr. Lee could not proceed without authorization from the Eighth Circuit. Id. at 14-17. The parties agree that § 2255(h) does not allow Mr. Lee to obtain this authorization. While Mr. Lee's § 2255 motion was not allowed to proceed, the District Court found that the newly discovered evidence was material, specifically stating that had the evidence been disclosed at trial “it is reasonably likely that . . . the outcome at sentencing would have been different.” Id. at 14.

         On July 25, 2019-while Mr. Lee's request for a certificate of appealability was pending before the Eighth Circuit-the Department of Justice set Mr. Lee's execution date for December 9, 2019. On November 4, 2019, the Eighth Circuit denied Mr. Lee's request for a certificate of appealability. Lee v. United States, No. 19-2432 (8th Cir. Nov. 4, 2019). Judge Kelly dissented, arguing that reasonable jurists could disagree regarding whether a material Brady claim in a second § 2255 motion qualifies as an impermissible second or successive § 2255 motion. Id. at 1-2.

         C. Mr. Lee's Petition in this Case

         Mr. Lee filed the habeas petition in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on September 26, 2019. Mr. Lee moved to stay his execution on November 8, 2019, the same day his habeas petition was fully briefed. Mr. Lee's discovery motion- seeking to conduct additional discovery to support both of his claims-remains pending.


         This case's procedural posture is unique because Mr. Lee is a plaintiff in a case pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “Execution Protocol Litigation”). On November 20, 2019, while the stay request was pending in this case, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia stayed Mr. Lee's execution. See In the Matter of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Execution Protocol Cases, No. 1:19-mc-00145-TSC (D.D.C. Nov. 20, 2019), Dkt. 50, Dkt. 51.[3] Mr. Lee then moved to withdraw his motion to stay his execution in this Court. Dkt. 22.

         The United States has appealed the stay entered in the Execution Protocol Litigation. Id., Dkt. 52. The appeal is pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. See In re FBOP Execution Protocol Cases, No. 19-5322 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 22, 2019). The United States' request to vacate the stay issued in the Execution Protocol Litigation is pending before the United States Supreme Court. See Barr, et al. v. Roane, et al., No. 19A615 (Dec. 2, 2019).

         It is not known at this time whether the stay issued by the District Court in the District of Columbia will stand or be vacated. But Mr. Lee's motion for a stay in this case is fully briefed, and considerations of the orderly administration of justice make it appropriate for the Court to rule at this time on Mr. Lee's motion for a stay.


         The standards governing preliminary injunctions apply to motions to stay executions in habeas proceedings. See Williams v. Chrans, 50 F.3d 1358, 1360 (7th Cir. 1995) (“The law governing stays of death sentences is, in general, the same as that employed in other situations.”). “A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008); see Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 584 (2006). Additionally, the Court must consider “the extent to which the inmate has delayed unnecessarily in bringing the claim.” Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 649-50 (2004); see Lambert v. Buss, 498 F.3d 446, 451 (7th Cir. 2007).

         In the death penalty context, a stay is warranted only upon “a showing of a significant possibility of success on the merits.” Hill, 547 U.S. at 584. When, as here, a habeas petition is not a prisoner's first, a stay of execution “should be granted only when there are ‘substantial grounds upon which relief might be granted.'” Garza v. Lappin, 253 F.3d 918, 920-21 (7th Cir. 2001) (applying this standard to a § 2241 petition).

         A. Mr. Lee has Shown a Significant Possibility of Success on the Merits of his Brady and Napue Claims

         The Court begins with the factual background necessary to understand Mr. Lee's Brady and Napue claims. The District Court of conviction summarized the background of Mr. Lee's Brady and Napue claims before ruling that it could not reach the merits:

To justify a death sentence for Lee when Kehoe had been sentenced to life imprisonment, the Government's penalty-phase case emphasized the future-dangerousness aggravator. The Government argued that Lee's past conduct showed that he was violent and volatile, and that he would present a danger in prison. Focusing on the Wavra murder, the Government introduced evidence showing Lee's role in that crime. Brian Compton, who was at the party when Wavra was killed by John David Patton, testified about Lee's involvement; the transcript of Lee's testimony at John David Patton's Oklahoma preliminary hearing was read aloud; and the responding Oklahoma detective and the forensic pathologist described Wavra's wounds and cause of death. The jury heard that, at a social gathering in 1990, Lee, then age seventeen, and his cousin, John David Patton, beat Wavra and forced him down a manhole into a storm sewer; that Patton went down into the manhole with Wavra, while Lee retrieved a plastic bag, rope, and knife that he handed down to Patton; that Patton handed Wavra's clothes up to Lee, who put them in the plastic bag; and that Patton then used the knife to repeatedly stab Wavra and slit his throat. Patton was convicted of first-degree murder in an Oklahoma state court, while Lee pled to deferred adjudication on a robbery charge. Other future-dangerousness evidence included (1) Lee's threatening behavior toward a sheriff's deputy, while he was in jail awaiting trial, and (2) a 1995 Florida conviction for carrying a concealed weapon.
In both opening and closing argument, the Government told the jury that Lee “has an earlier murder under his belt.” It argued that, even though Patton “wielded that knife, ” Lee helped him by giving him the knife and rope. The Government argued Lee knew what he was doing when he gave the knife to Patton, and that he both “legally and morally” had “the blood of Joey Wavra” on his hands. The Government contended the robbery plea offer was a “gift” from the ...

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