First of multiple executions carried out
Three other lethal injections have been blocked by challenges
Arkansas executed an inmate for the first time in nearly a dozen years as part of its plan to execute several inmates before a drug expires on April 30.
VARNER, Ark. — Arkansas executed an inmate for the first time in nearly a dozen years as part of its plan to execute several inmates before a drug expires April 30, despite court rulings that have already spared three men.
Ledell Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Thursday, four minutes before his death warrant was to expire. The 51year-old Lee was given the death penalty for the 1993 death of his neighbor, Debra Reese, whom Lee struck 36 times with a tire tool.
A prison spokesman said Lee on Thursday declined a last meal and opted instead to receive Communion.
Arkansas dropped plans to execute a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, on the same day after the state Supreme Court said it wouldn’t reconsider his stay, which was issued so Johnson could seek more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence. Two more inmates are set to die Monday, and one on April 27.
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee’s execution less than an hour before his death warrant was set to expire at midnight, rejecting a round of last-minute appeals the condemned inmate’s attorneys had filed. An earlier ruling from the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was obtained by misleading the company cleared the way for Lee’s execution.
The state originally set four double executions over an 11day 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. Three executions were canceled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put at least one of the other five in doubt.
Justices on Thursday reversed 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. said that the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with executions.
McKesson said it was disappointed in the court’s ruling.
“We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product,” the company said in a statement.
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 that 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.