Judge OKs use of drug for lethal injection
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas cleared a major hurdle in its onagain, off-again effort to conduct its first executions since 2005, with the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was misleadingly obtained.
The ruling clears the way for Arkansas to execute Ledell Lee on Thursday night, although he still has pending requests for reprieve. A stay remains in place that prevents the state from putting to death a second man, Stacey Johnson, as scheduled Thursday.
The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state says the executions need to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug, midazolam, expires on April 30. The first two executions were cancelled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put the other six in doubt.
Justices on Thursday stayed an order by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that halted the use of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection process, in any execution. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretences and that it wants nothing to do with executions.
“McKesson was duped ... into providing the drugs,” lawyer John Tull said, arguing the company could see its reputation and bottom line suffer.
Justices also denied an attempt by makers of midazolam and potassium chloride — the two other drugs in Arkansas’ execution plan — to intervene in McKesson’s fight over the vecuronium bromide. 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.
The legal manoeuvres frustrated Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had set the execution schedule less than two months ago.
“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 by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each,” Hutchinson said in a statement Wednesday night.
Ledell Lee, centre, appears in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Tuesday for a hearing to argue for a stay his execution, which was scheduled for Thursday.