Arkansas suffers 2 setbacks to multiple execution plan


Convicted murdered Ledell Lee was put to death after a flurry of last-minute court rulings Thursday that had left the latest of eight planned Arkansas executions in limbo. Earlier this week, the justices declined to step in and overturn a stay issued by the state supreme court that resulted in a reprieve for two inmates whose cases involved issues similar to those the justices will consider next week in an Alabama capital case.

Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Thursday, NPR member station KUAR Public Radio reports.

VARNER, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas carried out its first execution in almost a dozen years despite a flurry of legal challenges that had spared three convicted killers, but courts still could scuttle the remainder of the nation's most ambitious death penalty schedule since capital punishment was restored in 1976.

Ledell Lee's lethal injection Thursday capped a chaotic week of legal wrangling that left Arkansas scrambling to salvage any part of its attempt to execute eight men before one of its drugs expires at the end of April.

The other inmate set for execution on Thursday is Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case. He had always maintained his innocence. The courts denied the request. But the Arkansas supreme court vacated Griffen's ruling days after he participated in an anti-death penalty rally and reassigned some of his cases. "Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence", said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that helped represent Lee in his last appeals.

Anti-death penalty protesters outside the Varner Unit on Monday in Varner, Arkansas.

Gray sided with McKesson Corp., which had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug for medical use, not executions, and that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out.

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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissent he was concerned Arkansas was rushing to execute death row inmates before the supply of midazolam expires. "In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random", Breyer wrote.

Numerous legal battles in Arkansas have been over midazolam, mirroring similar cases in other U.S. states that have the death penalty.

Midazolam is used for a number of medical purposes, including anesthesia and reducing anxiety. Midazolam, along with the paralytic vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride which in heavy doses will stop the heart, comprise the state's three-drug lethal injection procedure. Now it's unclear whether any executions will proceed. A McKesson salesman presented the texts at the court hearing, which showed no mention or indication that the drug would be used for lethal injections.

"Unless the prisoner is unconscious, then drugs two and three will cause pain - torturous punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and state guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment", said Jeffrey Rosenzweig, an attorney for three of the inmates.

Since the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate the death penalty in 1973, the 31 U.S. states that have the death penalty have carried out 1,448 executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese, 26, two years prior. 'May those in Arkansas who hold the lives of these individuals on death row in their hands be moved by God's love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the current plans for execution'.