Judge denies retrial request for federal death row inmate
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma man’s new trial request for a 1999 federal murder conviction and death sentence in Arkansas has been denied, with the judge saying he doesn’t have jurisdiction while noting that evidence presented by attorneys “is reasonably likely” to have led to a different sentence.
Danny Lee, 46, of Yukon, was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1996 deaths of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy Mueller and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, of Russellville and stealing guns and cash in a plot to establish a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest.
Chevie Kehoe, 46, of Colville, Washington, was also convicted of murder in the case and was sentenced to life in prison, though prosecutors called Kehoe the ringleader and also sought the death penalty for him.
Tuesday’s order by U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes said that because the request is the third by Lee, it requires federal appeals court authorization, which has not been requested.
Lee’s attorneys, assistant federal public defenders Morris Moon and George Kouros, did not return phone calls for comment Wednesday.
The defense attorneys said in their September motion for a new trial that recently discovered documents show a 1990 murder charge against Lee, who was 17 at the time, was not reduced to a robbery charge, as said by prosecutors during the sentencing phase of his 1999 trial, but dismissed for a lack of evidence.
Holmes’ 20-page order notes that prosecutors, in seeking the death penalty, told jurors that Lee had received a “gift” when the murder charge in Oklahoma City was reduced.
“Assuming that the Oklahoma state court held at a preliminary hearing that the evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause that Lee was guilty of murdering Joey Wavra, that evidence is material,” Holmes wrote. “In light of the government’s reliance on the Wavra murder during sentencing it is reasonably likely that ... the outcome at sentencing would have been different.”
The new trial request does not say when the documents were discovered, but includes a September 1991 request for attorney fees by Kenneth Watson, the attorney for Lee, who was known at the time as Daniel Graham.
“Court finds crime of Murder I not established by evidence,” according to the request. “Court recommends a dismissal of Murder I charges and state consider refiling on charge of Robbery I.”
Watson, now a retired state judge, did not immediately return a phone call for comment.
Lee’s cousin was later convicted of killing Wavra and sentenced to life in prison.