Judge OKs use of drug for lethal in­jec­tion

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - WORLD NEWS - KELLY P. KISSEL and SEAN MUR­PHY

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.

BEN­JAMIN KRAIN/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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