04:37, April 21 215 0 abajournal.com

2017-04-21 04:37:05
One Arkansas inmate executed after SCOTUS rejects his stay requests

Updated: On Thursday night, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals that would have halted the execution of Ledell Lee, the Associated Press reported.

The justices voted 5-4 to reject an initial batch of appeals, and new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch voted with the majority, according to AP. A last-minute round of further appeals was then rejected by the justices less than an hour before the midnight expiration of Lee’s death warrant.

Lee’s execution commenced late Thursday, and he was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CT, according to AP.

On Wednesday evening, the on-again off-again attempts by Arkansas to execute multiple death row inmates were off after two court actions halted a plan to carry out the death sentences of Lee and inmate Stacey Johnson on Thursday, NBC News reports.

In a sweeping decision Wednesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray put Lee’s execution on hold, ruling that the prison could not use its supply of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic that is part of the three-drug mixture used by the state for lethal injections. McKesson Corp. argued that the prison system had deceived the company by saying the drug was to be used for medicinal reasons.

“Irreparable harm will result,” Judge Gray said, in ruling from the bench. “Harm that could not be addressed by [monetary] damages.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed Gray’s decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which lifted Gray’s order Thursday afternoon, the Associated Press reported.

In the other case Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay on the execution of Johnson, whose lawyers asked for more time to have new DNA testing done and presented as evidence in the case, claiming it will prove his innocence. The court ruled 4-3 to stay Johnson’s execution and remand the case to the trial court for a hearing on new DNA evidence, without explanation, although two justices in the minority released opinions that criticized the majority.

“With no explanation or instruction, this matter has been remanded to the trial court for another hearing,” wrote Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood. “Today, our court gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court.”

The hurried execution schedule—Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed eight death warrants to be carried out before the end of April—would have been the most of any state since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

“When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries’ sentences to be carried out since each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each,” the governor said in a released statement, adding that she will “continue to work with the attorney general as we evaluate our next steps.”

Updated at 5:02 p.m. to report Arkansas Supreme Court ruling. Updated at 8:56 p.m. to note U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Updated April 21 to note Lee’s execution.