Federal Judge Blocks Execution of Man Convicted of Killing 10-Year-Old Girl

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 27, 2020

A federal judge on Aug. 27 blocked the execution of a convicted murderer who kidnapped and killed a 10-year-old girl, just one day before the event was scheduled to take place.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan halted the execution of Keith Dwayne Nelson, saying that the government needs to comply with the requirements of a federal law that regulates drugs before they can carry out the execution. Chutkan ruled that the government needed to obtain a prescription for the use of pentobarbital, the drug to be used in the lethal injection, in order to meet the requirements of that law.

“The government’s failure to acquire a prescription for the use of pentobarbital in Nelson’s execution is contrary to law and thereby violates the [Administrative Procedure Act],” Chutkan wrote (pdf).

The federal government has appealed the decision to the Circuit Court.

Nelson kidnapped 10-year-old Pamela Butler who was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home and raped her in a forest behind a church before strangling the young girl to death with a wire. His execution date had been set for Aug. 28.

This comes hours after Lezmond Mitchell, a 38-year-old convicted murderer, was put to death in Terre Haute, Indiana. Mitchell was convicted of murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and 9-year-old Tiffany Lee—Slim’s granddaughter—as part of a carjacking in Arizona in October 2001. The federal government also successfully carried out three federal executions in July after fighting off last-minute legal challenges.

The Trump administration has been criticized for scheduling the executions during the pandemic, with critics saying that the scheduling had no regard for the safety and health of those involved. Meanwhile, anti-death penalty, religious, and other groups have criticized the decision to resume the death penalty after the 17-year pause over moral and religious concerns. The administration has said the resumption of the death penalty is a way to bring justice for victims and family members.

“Nearly 19 years after Lezmond Mitchell brutally ended the lives of two people, destroying the lives of many others, justice finally has been served,” Justice Department (DOJ) spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Wednesday about Mitchell’s execution.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen wrote in a recent op-ed, published in The New York Times, that the decision as a legal issue is straightforward, as the U.S. Constitution expressly contemplates capital crimes, and Congress has authorized the death penalty for serious federal offenses. He added that the DOJ also has an obligation to carry out the law.

The DOJ has also set the date of two additional federal executions of convicted murderers for dates in September.

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