Arkansas conducts controversial execution after Ledell Lee's appeal was denied

The battle over efforts by Arkansas to execute eight inmates in 11 days returned to the Supreme Court this evening.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied requests to stop the executions for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, both of which are scheduled for Monday night. Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissent that he was troubled by Arkansas' push to execute the inmates before its supply of midazolam expires.

The state of Arkansas carried out its first execution in 12 years on Thursday just before midnight, after a series of rejected appeals that reached all the way up to the Supreme Court cleared the way for 51-year-old Ledell Lee to be put to death by lethal injection. Four other men on death row have received stays for various reasons. Gov. Asa Hutchinson originally scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April.

Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project, said that Lee continued to insist his innocence until his execution. The pharmaceutical companies say there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, and that the state's possession of the drugs violates rules within their distribution networks. But another group of inmates did not fare as well in their challenges relating to Arkansas' death penalty protocol.

Over the next two weeks, the state meant to execute eight inmates, including Lee, but the court held up three of the executions. They say he may be resistant to the lethal injection drug midazolam because of the drugs he is taking for his maladies and could suffer a "tortuous death".

The U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday refused to halt Lee's execution after he unsuccessfully petitioned the Eight Circuit for a stay. Legislators and other top officials regularly complained publicly about the court overstepping its bounds with rulings striking down the school funding system.

Lee requested holy communion for his last meal and did not give a final statement.

But, as Slate reported, Justice Gorsuch's first recorded vote cast as a member of the Supreme Court was in favor of Lee's execution.

Wendy Kelley, the director of the corrections department, testified last week that she had personally acquired the third drug, potassium chloride, from a supplier who was so scared about his or her identity becoming public that they made a decision to "donate it".

The state conducted its first execution last week after a almost 12-year hiatus.

"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". Johnson was convicted of the 1994 murder of Carol Heath.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for Jones, said the inmates' conditions raise the likelihood of complications that were not apparent in Lee's execution.

McKesson Corp. had "claimed that the state deliberately circumvented [company restrictions] to use the drugs for executions".

The state of Arkansas planned their condensed barrage of executions for this month because its reserves of midozalam, the drug that renders inmates unconscious while their hearts are being stopped, were going to expire on April 30.

  • Leroy Wright