Court divides on Arkansas executions (UPDATED Friday, April 21, 6:10 am)


Lee's death late Thursday night was Arkansas' first execut.

Shortly after the 5-4 decision, the Associated Press confirmed that the execution of Ledell Lee had been carried out and he was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m.

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.

Lee was one of eight death row inmates Arkansas wants to execute by the end of the month - before one of its lethal injection drugs expires.

Three other planned executions were canceled this week because of court decisions. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the decision to stay Stacey Johnson's execution.

The last state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed two killers in August 2000.

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AMPEZZAN: Lee was 51, had spent more than two decades on death row for the brutal beating death of Debra Reese.

He was arrested less than half-an-hour after she was killed, spending money he had stolen from her. Reese's relatives were at the Cummins Unit and told media Lee deserved to die for a crime that ripped their lives apart. With arms extended, covered with a sheet, his head and hands covered with leather straps, Lee made no final statement and showed no apparent signs of suffering during the execution. "That factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random", wrote Justice Stephen Breyer.

The nation's top court as well as a USA circuit court issued temporary execution stays as they analyzed the case-but ultimately all were lifted.

The inmates said the state's drug protocol, which includes the controversial sedative midazolam, puts them at risk of an unnecessarily painful death. Arkansas initially wanted to execute eight men before a drug used to sedate the inmates expires Sunday, but four other inmates have won stays. The state Supreme Court lifted a judge's order preventing its use hours before Lee's execution.

Numerous legal clashes over Arkansas's plan focus on use of the drug midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs induce death. Hutchinson pointed to the dissents and said he knows "families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review".

Lee requested Holy Communion as his last meal, prison officials said.

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Jones' sister recently gave an interview where she talked at length about her brother's mental state and how the state of Arkansas will not allow her to be present for his execution.

Inmates' attorneys also failed in efforts to block the executions based on concerns about midazolam, which has been used in flawed executions in other states.

Jones was given the death penalty for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. McKesson Corp., the company that sold the state their supply of the drug, claims the state did not inform them that the drugs were to be used in executions.

Lee maintained his innocence until the time of his death. The state's elected prosecutors also criticized the roadblocks to the execution plans.

Lawyers for the state have complained that the inmates are filing court papers just to use up the time remaining on Arkansas' midazolam supply.

Arkansas Executes An Inmate For First Time In Almost A Decade
Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are scheduled for execution on April 24 and Kenneth Williams is scheduled for execution April 27. Media witnesses speak about the late Thursday night execution of Ledell Lee in Varner, Ark., early Friday, April 21, 2017 .