Arkansas conducts first execution since 2005
Lee showed no signs of consciousness two minutes after the lethal injection, which began at 11:44 p.m.
The Arkansas Supreme Court is allowing the state to use a lethal injection drug in upcoming executions, despite a supplier's complaint that it was sold to the state to be used only for inmates' medical care.
Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese, 26, two years prior.
A state circuit judge issued the temporary restraining order on Wednesday after the USA pharmaceutical firm McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide under false pretences.
Lee's attorneys filed a flurry of appeals in hopes of stopping his execution, which was Arkansas' first in the state since 2005. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Before the written order was even filed, however, the state asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to step in.
Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in this booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Johnson's execution was stayed on Wednesday by the state high court. In federal court, Lee said a string of incompetent lawyers failed to make the case that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible to be executed.
What this highlights is how hard it has become for states to kill by lethal injection, with botched executions and drug companies saying they do not want their products associated with the practice.
Midazolam, which Arkansas hasn't yet used in an execution, would be the first of the three drugs administered and would be used to sedate the inmate.
McKesson said it was disappointed in the court's ruling. Officers arrested Lee an hour after the murder on February 9, 1993 after he used some cash that he stole from Reese to pay a bill at a store.
Whether or not Lee would actually be executed was up in the air all day and well into the night on Thursday.
The decision by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to not appeal Johnson's stay leaves only one inmate facing execution Thursday night.
When those appeals reach the Supreme Court, they go first to the justice who oversees the state in which the execution is scheduled.
The state described the inmates' challenge as a last-minute delay that would "manipulate the judicial process".
"I have ultimate respect for the court and I'm not going to question individual decisions but I would say there is frustration among the Legislature as to the court's continued refusal to allow an execution to go through", said Sen.
Two inmates are scheduled for execution Thursday night with three more executions planned for next week.
Another execution scheduled this month in another state was also halted Thursday.
The state of Arkansas plans to execute three more men next week to beat the clock on their expiring drug supply. She pledged to try and "ensure that justice is carried out".
The situation is a familiar one for Rebecca Petty, whose daughter's killer was granted a reprieve by federal courts hours before his execution in 2004.
Arkansas officials have defended the schedule because they have no guarantee of obtaining new lethal-injection drugs amid an ongoing shortage, and they have to carry out the death sentences of eight men convicted of capital murder. The number of executions carried out in the United States fell to a 25-year low in 2016. The state had earlier planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting April 17.