Arkansas Executions 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
npr.org

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled in his first big case late Thursday night. It allowed Arkansas to move forward with executions after a nearly 12 years lull.

The newest Supreme Court Justice’s vote helped reconstitute the court’s 5-4 conservative majority. Gorsuch joined Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito in denying death row inmate Ledell Lee’s appeals. He was executed last night.

Arkansas has carried out its first execution since 2005, just four minutes before the inmate's death warrant was set to expire.

Ledell Lee's execution was scheduled for 7 p.m., but an evening of appeals kept him alive longer. The U.S. Supreme Court nearly halted his execution at one point in the evening but ultimately decided, 5 to 4, that the state could proceed.

"A lethal injection was administered at 11:44 p.m. and the coroner pronounced Ledell Lee dead at 11:56 p.m.," announced Soloman Graves, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction.

The scene outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion before the execution of Ledell Lee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansas has executed its first death row inmate in nearly 12 years after clearing numerous legal challenges. While the death penalty is a popular form of punishment in Arkansas, a devoted few dozen protestors have been showing up this week at Governor Asa Hutchinson’s residence. 

Over the course of the day, the vigil for Ledell Lee ebbed and flowed in attendance. There was a constant crowd size of about 50 people.

Many people, including Sandra Cone, stayed for six hours until the state’s last hour execution.

Arkansas’s execution secrecy law prevents the identities of drug manufacturers and sellers from being public. It also protects the identities of people carrying out executions.

 

But inmates’ attorneys say that secrecy, and a general lack of information about the state’s lethal injection protocol, obscure whether adequate safeguards are in place to use the controversial drug midazolam.

The Arkansas Supreme Court is allowing the state to use a lethal injection drug in upcoming executions, despite a supplier's complaint that it was sold to the state to be used only for inmates' medical care.

Justices on Thursday lifted a judge's order preventing the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in Arkansas' lethal injection protocol. McKesson Corp., a medical supply company, said the state misleadingly bought the drug and that it wasn't intended for executions.

Varner Arkansas Department of Correction Cummins Prison
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

UPDATE 11:30 p.m.: The Department of Correction reversed its policy without explanation and media witnesses will be able to take notes during the execution of Ledell Lee this hour.

ORIGINAL POST: If courts do end up giving the go-ahead on Arkansas’s execution plans, media will have less rights to document the execution than just about anywhere else in the nation. Three members of the media are allowed by the state to witness an execution but officials are banning the use of paper and pencil to take notes – forcing reporters to rely solely on memory.

Arkansas Death Chamber Lethal Injection
Arkansas Department of Correction

Arkansas inmates set for a series of executions before the end of the month have filed a new request for stays.

In court papers filed Thursday, they say any new judges assigned to their cases in a state court at Little Rock should have time to become familiar with their pleadings.

The state Supreme Court reassigned death penalty-related cases from a judge who went to an anti-death penalty rally after issuing an order last week barring the state from using one of its execution drugs.

Arkansas’s now six scheduled executions this month have been effectively stayed, again. This time it’s the result of a drug supplier suing to block usage of its product in the state’s lethal injections.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray in Little Rock has granted a temporary injunction in favor of the drug supplier McKesson Corp. The company says the Department of Correction used deceptive practices to obtain its vecuronium bromide.

Testimony from both sides diverged on whether prison officials were forthright that they were ordering the drugs for use in an execution. 

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions set for Thursday, saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.

Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment.

In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims.

A medical supply company is suing again to try and prevent Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug in the upcoming executions of two convicted killers, saying it was sold to be used for medical purposes.

McKesson Corp. asked a Pulaski County judge Tuesday to order Arkansas officials to return its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state's lethal injection protocol. The company has said prison officials misleadingly obtained the drug.

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