Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Arkansas carries out first execution in over a decade


Arkansas officials say such an order effectively blocks all the scheduled executions because they have been unable to get more of that drug, which is used as a paralytic as part of the state's three-drug lethal-injection procedure.

Arkansas executed convicted murderer Ledell Lee shortly after the US Supreme Court denied emergency motions in his case. That means Ledell Lee's fate now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier in the evening rejected two requests for stays in separate cases.

Sean Murphy of the Associated Press, who witnessed a botched execution with midazolam in Oklahoma, said the inmate appeared to lose consciousness quickly.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the stay of execution". Wave after wave of legal challenges followed. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions.

Four of the eight inmates scheduled for execution have received court reprieves, but on Thursday night, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, 51, marking the state's first execution since 2005.

The US state of Arkansas carried out its first execution in almost a decade, the state's attorney general said, proceeding despite criticism that its controversial plan to execute several prisoners by the end of the month was rushed. Under Arkansas' protocol, executioners administer 100 mg, or more than 11 times the typical dose, five minutes after the midazolam is administered and once the inmate is unconscious.

Arkansas's push to reduce the number of its death-row prisoners by 20 percent in less than two weeks has drawn sharp protests worldwide, and Lee's execution was met with swift criticism. The judge ruled on a lawsuit by US pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc which accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretences.

Hikma Pharmaceuticals, the parent company for West-Ward, which the AP identified in 2015 as the likely maker of Arkansas' midazolam, also wrote letters to the Correction Department a year ago seeking the return of its drugs. McKesson Corp., the wholesaler of another, vecuronium bromide, had filed for a temporary restraining order last week to keep Arkansas from using it. But a divided Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that prisoners did not prove the drug entailed "a substantial risk of severe pain".

"Among all the companies we've met and spoken to recently not one has brought up anything related to the state's executions", he said. Execution warrants for Bruce Ward and Don Davis have now expired, and stays of execution are in place for Stacey Johnson and Jason McGehee.

Arkansas officials entered this week hoping to begin an unprecedented wave of executions, but court orders have imperiled those plans and left unclear whether the state will be able to carry out any of the lethal injections. He had maintained his innocence. So far, the state has been forced to allow three death warrants to expire and a court stayed an additional inmate's execution.

Public support for capital punishment, which peaked in the mid-1990s, when 80% of Americans favored the death penalty, is now at its lowest level since 1972, according to the Pew Research Center. "Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence", Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, said in a statement.

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