Arkansas officials ask courts to clear path for executions
Arkansas originally sought to execute eight men, convicted of different murders decades ago, over an 11-day period because its supply of midazolam expires April 30.
One of Lee's lawyers, Nina Morrison, said the state had denied Lee - who was convicted of murdering his neighbor - from proving his innocence with DNA testing.
It was unclear whether Rutledge would appeal the stay of execution for Johnson to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state lost an appeal to the high court on a case involving another inmate Monday night.
The state is set to execute Ledell Lee, 51, at its Cummins Unit in Grady, which houses the state's death chamber.
The Arkansas Supreme Court said in a four-three ruling that it would not reconsider its decision to stay Johnson's execution.
Legal challenges had until Thursday night prevented the state from following through on any of them. Lee's execution, but decided, 5 to 4, to allow the state to proceed with its plan, which had called for eight prisoners to be put to death over less than two weeks.
Arkansas has overcome a flurry of court challenges that derailed three other executions and put to death an inmate for the first time in almost 12 years. Arkansas's store of the drug is set to expire at the end of the month and is what triggered the Department of Correction to plan an unprecedented string of eight executions in 10 days this month.
Representatives from the attorney general's office were at the state Supreme Court on Thursday hoping justices would overturn a decision by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that halted the use of vecuronium bromide in any execution. European laws effectively prohibit the sale of drugs for execution purposes, and many United States companies also refuse to sell the chemicals for use in carrying out death sentences.
Lee's attorneys have argued that he be given a chance to test blood and hair evidence that could prove he didn't beat 26-year-old Debra Reese to death during a 1993 robbery in Jacksonville. The judge blocked the state from using its supply of pancuronium bromide, the second drug in the state's three-drug cocktail. The execution was scheduled for 7 p.m. then delayed and rescheduled several times thereafter before the stay was finally lifted.
McKesson, the country's largest drug distributor, has gone further, seeking to block the state from using vecuronium bromide, a third drug, and accusing Arkansas of obtaining it under false pretenses.
However, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the use of midazolam does not constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment. Without the use of the drug, Arkansas would not be able to carry out executions unless it obtains a replacement drug for its protocol.
Lawyers for Lee, who has maintained his innocence for years, launched last-minute appeals to halt the execution with federal courts and the US Supreme Court. "I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family".
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. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. "Today's techniques are much more sophisticated and precise than the methods used before trial", attorney Jeff Rosenzweig said after the ruling. Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, no state ever has put so many prisoners to death over such a short period.
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