Gorsuch's first big SCOTUS vote cleared way for Arkansas execution

If he is put to death, his killing will be Arkansas' first execution since 2005. John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-G.

That's according to an Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution of Ledell Lee at the Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas.

Courts have halted four of those executions as arguments continue over death-penalty protocols, but the Supreme Court denied the petitions for the group.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves says Lee did not make a final statement before his execution began at 11:44 p.m.

The Supreme Court ruling was the latest legal twist as Arkansas seeks to carry out a series of executions before one of the drugs used in its lethal injection mix, the sedative midazolam, expires by the end of the month.

The Associated Press has obtained letters showing that a drugmaker a year ago asked Arkansas not to purchase its products for use in executions. "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", Nina Morrison, one of Lee's lawyers, said in a statement.

A vigil took place outside Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson's mansion protesting the execution on Thursday night. "But in many ways", he says, "it's emotions they've experienced before, since these executions have been going through different legal hurdles for 20 years or so".

Arkansas had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Williams is obese and diabetic. Jones argues that his diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions could cause him to suffer an "extended and painful death".

Authorities received the go-ahead to execute Lee after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last appeals. Three executions were canceled because of court decisions, and court rulings have put at least one other in doubt. "That factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random", wrote Justice Stephen Breyer.

These companies don't quite see the same duty to God to participate in executions, and have joined a chorus of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors who over the past decade have increasingly refused to sell their drugs to state governments for lethal injection.

The second drug, vecuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant, but not in the typical sense. In response, Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the state from using the drug in question for executions. 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.

Lee's execution prompted immediate criticism. But critics of midazolam say that does little to allay their concerns that the drug may not render inmates fully unconscious before they receive drugs to stop their hearts and lungs.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the McKesson suit marked the first time a company directly asked a court to stop its drugs from being used.

Attorneys for the inmates have complained the schedule is stretching their resources thin as they work against the clock.

"When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases", Hutchinson said, "but I expected the courts to allow the juries' sentences to be carried out since each case has been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each".

  • Larry Hoffman