Arkansas conducts first execution since 2005, plans 3 more
The US state of Arkansas executed an inmate for the first time in almost 12 years this morning after the Supreme Court cleared the way for a lethal injection just half an hour before the murderer's death warrant was due to expire.
Ledell Lee, who was sentenced to death for murdering his neighbor, Debra Reese, in a Little Rock suburb in 1993, was pronounced dead at 11:56pm central time at the Cummins Unit prison in southern Arkansas.
Arkansas's store of the drug is set to expire at the end of the month and is what triggered the Department of Correction to plan an unprecedented string of eight executions in 10 days this month.
Unless a court steps in, Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night.
Lee's execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him.
Three justices dissented from the decision to stay Johnson's execution.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary stay until 8:30 p.m. CDT as the Supreme Court considered Lee's requests for a stay, while the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a separate temporary stay until 9:15 p.m. Thursday as it considered a separate appeal.
The makers of the other two drugs being used in the process - midazolam and potassium chloride - were blocked from intervening in the case.
He requested the Holy Communion as his last meal and declined to make a final statement, the Arkansas Department of Correction said.
Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first executions in almost 12 years has been thwarted by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary. On Thursday, his attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit asking for a stay of his execution to allow more time for new DNA testing in the case.
Arkansas has set two more executions for April 24 and April 27. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said she would not appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Drug company McKesson Medical Surgical Inc said the drug had been sold to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment. A protester and a spokesperson for the governor reacted to the controversial execution. Johnson's execution was stayed on Wednesday by the state high court.
Numerous legal clashes over Arkansas's plan focus on use of the drug midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs stop the heart.
The AP a year ago used redacted drug labels to identify Hospira, which was purchased by Pfizer, as the likely manufacturer of Arkansas' vecuronium bromide. The state's supply will expire by the end of April.
The legal delays in the executions frustrated Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state officials.
McKesson filed for a new restraining order, which was approved Wednesday but then removed Thursday afternoon by the state Supreme Court.
"What McKesson's lawsuit demonstrates is that the secrecy law is not created to protect the distributors and manufacturers; it's created to try to prevent them from learning that the state has improperly obtained the drugs", said Dunham, whose nonprofit group opposes the death penalty.