Arkansas executes death row inmate Ledell Lee

Ledell Lee

With Gorsuch's vote, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision on Thursday that Arkansas can carry on with its plan to kill more inmates than any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Two Arkansas inmates scheduled to be put to death Monday in what could be the nation's first double execution in more than 16 years asked an appeals court on Sunday to halt their lethal injections because of poor health that could cause complications. After another day of legal drama, the execution got underway shortly after word came that the U.S. Supreme Court would not take action to prevent the state from putting Lee to death via lethal injection.

Ledell Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., Thursday, four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire at midnight.

Lee was sentenced to death row for the 1993 killing of his neighbor Debra Reese. Ms Rutledge's office said the Attorney General would not appeal to the US Supreme Court over that case. Arkansas had been planning to execute four inmates this week. If any inmate dies by lethal injection, it would be the state's first execution since 2005.

Before Lee's death, all executions were put on hold in the state after a judge issued a restraining order on a key lethal injection drug. The case ended in 2007 when justices said Arkansas had adequately funded its schools. And according to the New York Times, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer's dissent protested the fact that the state had set up a schedule of executions planned for eight prisoners over 11 days because of the approaching expiration date of Arkansas's stock of midazolam.

The state's "rush" to execute Lee "denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence", Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project said in a statement. In several of the 31 states where executions are legal, drug shortages have often forced delays as manufacturers prohibit their use in executions.

Though Lee has maintained his innocence since the murder 24 years ago, his last efforts to stay his executions were met with denials from both Arkansas and federal courts. Attorneys with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a flurry of legal challenges requesting more time to prove Lee's innocence with more DNA testing.

That included a block by a judge who participated in two anti-death penalty marches on the day he blocked the executions.

The 8th Circuit rejected Jones' and Williams' requests for stays Monday, and the Arkansas Supreme Court said Monday it wouldn't reopen the men's cases and refused to issue stays. Representatives for Fresenius and Hikma Pharmaceuticals — the parent company for West-Ward, which the AP identified in 2015 as the likely maker of Arkansas' midazolam — said they don't know for sure that the state used their products because Arkansas officials won't answer their questions. "That factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random". "It's not surprising that some of the executions have been stayed, but obviously last night we felt the right decision was handed down".

The death penalty has been abolished in 140 countries around the world.

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