Arkansas Carries Out First Execution Since 2005

April 21, 2017

Convicted murdered Ledell Lee was put to death after a flurry of last-minute court rulings Thursday that had left the latest of eight planned Arkansas executions in limbo. Defense lawyers battled on myriad fronts to save Lee, who claimed innocence, from a controversial lethal injection.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves says Lee did not make a final statement before his execution began at 11:44 p.m. CT Thursday. Graves says Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.

The Supreme Court denied efforts to block the executions on the basis of the condensed timetable and risks posed by a controversial sedative. The votes were 5-4 along ideological lines, with five conservative justices allowing them to go forward and four liberal justices dissenting.

Those rulings were followed by others affecting one of two men whose executions were scheduled for Thursday night. Lee, 51, came within minutes of execution several times before receiving temporary reprieves. Stacey Johnson, 47, won a state Supreme Court ruling in favor of further DNA testing.

All those court actions came after the Arkansas Supreme Court had cleared the way for another of the three drugs to be used in the executions. The court overturned a state circuit court judge's ruling Wednesday in favor of drug maker McKesson Corp., which had contested the use of its paralytic drug vecuronium bromide for executions.

That means the state's three-drug protocol — including a controversial sedative, midazolam, that has resulted in botched executions elsewhere — can be used for any executions that survive other challenges. But just as two executions Monday were blocked over mental health and legal representation issues, Thursday's were threatened by innocence claims mounted by defense lawyers seeking new hearings for DNA testing.

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