Arkansas prepares for first double execution in USA since 2000

The legal chaos surrounding Arkansas' first execution in almost a dozen years and its compromised effort to put eight men to death before the month's end is unlikely to cause any political fallout for the state's Republican governor, attorney general or any other officials backing the lethal injection plan.

Jack Jones Jr. and Marcel Williams had asked the state's highest court to stop their executions, which are set for Monday night.

In a series of orders Thursday night, the high court cleared the state to execute Ledell Lee, one of eight convicted murderers that Arkansas has been trying to put to death before one of its lethal-injection drugs expires at the end of the month.

Before Lee's death, all executions were put on hold in the state after a judge issued a restraining order on a key lethal injection drug.

Over the next two weeks, the state meant to execute eight inmates, including Lee, but the court held up three of the executions. The state had earlier planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting April 17.

"Apparently the reason the state made a decision to proceed with these eight executions is that the "use by" date of the state's execution drug is about to expire", wrote Justice Breyer in explaining his vote. Solomon Graves, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, waits at a desk for a telephone call with news from the death chamber at the Cummins Unit prison near Varner, Ark., on Thursday, April 20, 2017.

The pharmaceutical companies believe that diverting their drugs for executions presents a public health risk, and violates rules within the companies' distribution. Another day of intense legal wrangling kept Lee, who was sentenced to death more than two decades ago, alive until just before his death warrant expired at midnight.

At the heart of Arkansas' plans is the sedative midazolam, one of three drugs used in lethal injections.

The 4-3 majority that issued the stays last week has drawn the ire of death penalty proponents, with one state lawmaker tweeting the cellphone number of Chief Justice Dan Kemp in response. The 11-day execution timetable prompted severe backlash from inmates' lawyers and advocacy groups who termed the plan as "an unseemly rush that offended standards of decency". Four of those executions have been indefinitely delayed by stays for matters including DNA testing, clemency consideration or to allow for a decision in an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case.

Stacey Johnson, who was also slated to be executed on Thursday, was granted a stay from the same court on Wednesday after requesting further testing of DNA evidence in his case. "In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random". Four other men on death row have received stays for various reasons.

Vecuronium bromide halts an inmate's breathing.

The state's plan prompted an unprecedented flurry of legal filings and raised questions about US death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes.

Inmates' attorneys also failed in efforts to block the executions based on concerns about midazolam, which has been used in flawed executions in other states.

The company asked the state to return 10 vials of the drug. The cases were part of a blitz of executions by the state created to occur before its stockpile of lethal-injection drugs expires.

It is expected that there will be last minute legal filings to try to halt the next scheduled executions.

  • Leroy Wright