TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Daniel Lewis Lee, a condemned man and convicted murderer, was asked if he wanted to make a final statement from the execution chamber, with its institutional green-tiled walls and plate-glass interior window, moments before he too would die.
He did. He leaned his head up and we locked eyes.
“You’re killing an innocent man,” Lee said, looking directly at me.
Those were his last words. He said them to me.
Lee’s execution, one of two that I witnessed this past week at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, played out slowly, after painstaking hours of final, futile legal appeals, before prison officials administered a lethal injection and the federal government carried out capital punishment for the first time in almost two decades. A third execution came later in the week.
Before the lethal injection for Lee, there had been a lot of waiting. Prison officials searched me extensively each time I arrived, then sent me back to my hotel during the legal maneuvering, only to call me back to the maximum-security facility.
As part of a small group of other reporters, I was an official witness to Lee’s death, one that took place in the middle of a pandemic.
Lee, who was convicted of killing an Arkansas gun dealer, his wife and young daughter in the late 1990s, was scheduled to be executed Monday at 4 p.m. EDT.
But there would be a long wait as his legal appeals made their way to the Supreme Court. Along with other reporters, I was lodged inside a former bowling alley that was now a prison staff training center. It was guarded by heavily armed prison officers. We were all wearing blue surgical masks. Our temperatures were taken.