Arkansas Sidesteps Legal Wrangling, Executes First in List of Inmates

Cheryl Sanders
April 22, 2017

An earlier ruling from the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was obtained by misleading the company cleared the way for Lee's execution.

Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Lee's death late Thursday night was Arkansas' first execution since 2005.

Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese, 26, two years prior. J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, speaks with reporters early Friday, April 21, 2017, following the execution of death row inmate Ledell Lee.

He made no final statement and is reported to have shown no apparent signs of suffering during the execution. "Justice was carried out". "While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent". Mr Lee maintained his innocence through the moment of his execution.

The first three executions were cancelled because of court decisions but two more are set to go ahead on...

Although, U.S. Supreme Court issued Thursday night a temporary stay to Lee, who maintained his innocence, the court voted 5-4 to deny appeals meant to stop Lee's execution, while the Arkansas State Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling prohibiting the state's use of one of the three lethal injection drugs, midazolam. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with executions.

The midazolam is hard to track down the chain of distribution, however, and state prisons do have legitimate reasons for buying it other than execution, including for normal health care purposes, such as minor surgery.

At the heart of Arkansas' plans is the sedative midazolam, one of three drugs used in lethal injections. Their lawyers have argued that Arkansas' rush to the death chamber amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and violated the inmates' right to counsel and their right to access the courts and counsel during the execution process.

The court has rejected stays for the eight men, including Lee.

Arkansas originally sought to execute eight men, convicted of different murders decades ago, over an 11-day period because its supply of midazolam expires April 30.

The use of vecuronium bromide has also faced legal pushback, with McKesson Medical-Surgical-a distributor for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer-accusing Arkansas of concealing its plans to use the drug for capital punishment.

The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Lee's conviction and sentence on direct appeal in 1997.

Gallini said trying to salvage the rest of the execution schedule could invite even more intense legal battles "because what started out as kind of a press release and a decision has ballooned" into trending hashtags and global news coverage.

"When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries' sentences to be carried out, since each case had been reviewed multiple times", Hutchinson said in a statement.

The director of the Arkansas Department of Correction, Wendy Kelley, testified last week that Arkansas was not charged for its current supply of potassium chloride.

"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.

"Neither inmate had been moved back to the Varner Unit as of Wednesday evening, and Graves said the prison was awaiting guidance from the governor and attorney general".

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