July 12, 2020 / 6:26 PM / a month ago

U.S. prison employee preparing for executions tests positive for coronavirus

WASHINGTON, July 12 (Reuters) - A staff member involved in the preparation of the first executions of U.S. federal prisoners in 17 years has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Bureau of Prisons said on Sunday.

In a court filing, the bureau said the employee based at the Justice Department’s execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, attended a meeting with outside law enforcement in preparation for the scheduled executions and another meeting on how to handle any demonstrators.

He did not come into contact with members of the execution protocol team, the bureau said.

The news comes two days after a U.S. federal judge blocked the first execution, due to be carried out on Monday, after some of the victims’ relatives sued, saying they feared that attending could expose them to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ordered the Justice Department to delay the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee until it could show it was upholding the right of victims’ relatives to attend without risking their health. The Justice Department said it would appeal.

Another prisons employee had previously tested positive for the virus, and has since recovered.

Lee’s scheduled death by lethal injection is one of four executions that had been scheduled for July and August. All four men had been convicted of killing children.

Wesley Purkey’s execution was scheduled for Wednesday, but a federal appeals court issued a temporary stay this month and it was not clear whether it would proceed. Dustin Honken’s is set for Friday. (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

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