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Arkansas set to conduct 1st execution since 2005

  • In this Monday evening, April 17, 2017 photo, the sun sets behind clouds over an Arkansas State Police command post outside the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction near Varner, Ark. As state officials prepare to carry out a double execution Thursday ahead of a drug expiration deadline and despite the setback the U.S. Supreme Court delivered late Monday, lawyers for those condemned men look to be taking a different approach: claiming the prisoners are actually innocent. (Stephen B. Thornton/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP) STEPHEN B. THORNTON

  • Anti-death penalty supporters Abraham Bonowitz, left, and Randy Gardner wait near their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark. (Stephen B. Thornton /The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP) STEPHEN B. THORNTON

  • Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, right, embraces Abraham Bonowitz, left, after they read on his phone the 11:45 p.m., decision to halt the execution in their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark. (Stephen B. Thornton /The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP) STEPHEN B. THORNTON

  • Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, left, wipes away a tear moments after Abraham Bonowitz, left, read on his phone the 11:45pm Supreme Court decision to halt the execution in their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark. (Stephen B. Thornton /The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP) Stephen B. Thornton

  • Ledell Lee appears in Pulaski County Circuit Court Tuesday, April 18, 2017, for a hearing in which lawyers argued to stop his execution which is scheduled for Thursday. Unless a court steps in, Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night. Lee was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Debra Reese with a tire iron in February 1993 in Jacksonville. (Benjamin Krain/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP) Benjamin Krain



Associated Press
Thursday, April 20, 2017

VARNER, Ark. — Arkansas on Thursday canceled the third of eight planned executions in the face of court challenges, but was moving forward with plans later in the night to conduct its first execution since 2005.

A ruling from the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was obtained by misleading the company cleared the way for Arkansas to execute Ledell Lee on Thursday night, although he still had requests for stays pending with a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court. Lee’s attorneys also filed a last-minute civil rights lawsuit in federal court, hoping to block his execution.

Arkansas dropped plans to execute a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, on the same day after the state Supreme Court said it wouldn’t reconsider his stay, which was issued so Johnson could seek more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence.

The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state says the executions need to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug, midazolam, expires on April 30. Three executions were canceled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put at least one of the other five in doubt.

Lee was set to be executed for the 1993 death of his neighbor Debra Reese, who was struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband had given her for protection.

A prison spokesman said Lee on Thursday declined a last meal and opted instead to receive communion.

Justices on Thursday reversed an order by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that halted the use of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection process, in any execution. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with executions.

McKesson said it was disappointed in the court’s ruling.

“We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product,” the company said in a statement.

Justices also denied an attempt by makers of midazolam and potassium chloride — the two other drugs in Arkansas’ execution plan — to intervene in McKesson’s fight over the vecuronium bromide. The pharmaceutical companies say there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, and that the state’s possession of the drugs violates rules within their distribution networks.

The legal maneuvers frustrated Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had set the execution schedule less than two months ago. The state’s elected prosecutors also criticized the roadblocks to the execution plans.

“Through the manipulation of the judicial system, these men continue to torment the victims’ families in seeking, by any means, to avoid their just punishment,” the prosecutors said in a joint statement issued Thursday.

The Arkansas Supreme Court said in a 4-3 ruling that it would not reconsider its decision to stay Johnson’s execution. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office said she would not appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the state have complained that the inmates are filing court papers just to run out the clock on Arkansas’ midazolam supply. Prisons director Wendy Kelley has said the state has no way to obtain more midazolam or vecuronium bromide. At one point in the proceedings before a federal judge last week, Arkansas Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky declared, “Enough is enough.”