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Published: Mon, April 24, 2017
USA | By Yvette Dunn

Arkansas Carries Out First Execution Since 2005


Arkansas overcame a flurry of court challenges Thursday that derailed three other executions, putting to death an inmate for the first time in almost a dozen years as part of a plan that would have been the country's most ambitious since the death penalty was restored in 1976.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "surprised and disappointed" by Wednesday's state Supreme Court stay of Johnson's execution.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of one lethal injection drug expires.

The Arkansas Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee's execution earlier Thursday, overturning an injunction that blocked the use of a lethal injection drug.

The 51-year-old was put on death row for the 1993 murder of his neighbour Debra Reese, who Lee struck 36 times with a wheel wrench her husband gave her for protection.

Arkansas wanted to fast track the executions of seven other convicted murderers before the month's end when one of its lethal-injection drugs expires.

Lawyers for the eight inmates, including Lee, had argued the state's rush to the death chamber amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, violated the inmates' right to counsel and their right to access the courts and counsel during the execution process.

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.

Hikma, the British manufacturers of the drug, have opposed its use in executions, and the makers of other drugs have tried to halt the executions in the courts, arguing that the prison authorities were unauthorised to use their products.

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The difficulties of obtaining drugs, and legal challenges mean executions remain on hold in Oklahoma and Florida, which used to be among the most active death penalty states. As of now Johnson will not be executed.

Reports from ADC state that Lee's death certificate will state the cause of death as homicide.

"I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure to the Reese family", she said. Lee's petition for post-conviction relief was reconsidered by the circuit court after a U.S. District Court judge found that Lee's post-conviction counsel might have been impaired during the proceedings.

According to McKesson, the Arkansas Department of Corrections deceived the company to purchase the drug, promised to return it and was given a refund - only to reverse course, refuse to hand over the drug and keep the refund.

But, as Slate reported, Justice Gorsuch's first recorded vote cast as a member of the Supreme Court was in favor of Lee's execution. Lee's death late Thursday night was Arkansas' first execution since 2005.

Johnson won a reprieve for a hearing on DNA testing. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken".

The majority did not offer an explanation, but Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the dissent that executing Lee because the state's lethal injection drugs were set to expire was arbitrary. "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 5-4 decision by the nation's highest court became the first decision by newly appointed Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

In their pleading, the companies warned that by buying up supplies of the drugs and hoarding them to be used only in executions, states like Arkansas are keeping those medications away from people who need them.

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