Drugmaker asked Arkansas not to use drug in executions

Arkansas on Thursday night executed its first death-row inmate in 12 years after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal that allowed the state to use its lethal injection drugs on convicted killer Ledell Lee.

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. Governor Asa Hutchinson said the highly unusual timeframe was necessary because the state's supplies of the sedative midazolam, used as the first of the three-drug cocktail in lethal injections, was expiring on 30 April and would be hard to replace.

Lee began receiving the lethal injection at 11:44 p.m. and was pronounced deceased at 11:56 p.m.

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 stop the heart.

Lee was convicted in the murder of 26-year-old mother Debra Reese in 1993. Two other Arkansas inmates, Jack Harold Jones and Marcel W. Williams, are scheduled to be executed on Monday.

The State had planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting April 17, but four of the men have received stays for various reasons.

Three of those executions were canceled this week because of court decisions.

But attorneys for the men still facing execution say the drugs used are inhumane.

The execution concluded another day with last minute rulings and appeals to the state and U.S. Supreme Court.

Arkansas dropped plans to execute a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, on the same day. In his first vote on the nation's highest court, newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote in favor of putting Lee to death. In fact, the court ordered Griffen removed from all death penalty cases after photos emerged of him participating in a rally against the executions. He maintained his innocence and his lawyers were seeking additional DNA testing.

The US Supreme Court denied the petitions for the group. According to Bloomberg, each of the court's four liberal justices voted in favor of at least one of Lee's requests for a stay of execution. And I have pointed out how the arbitrary nature of the death penalty system, as presently administered, runs contrary to the very objective of a "rule of law".

The use of vecuronium bromide has also faced legal pushback, with McKesson Medical-Surgical-a distributor for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer-accusing Arkansas of concealing its plans to use the drug for capital punishment.

A federal appeals court had already rejected all stay requests from Lee Thursday night, and The Supreme Court ultimately did not intervene to stop his execution. He implored Arkansas to let him take a DNA test and compare the results to DNA collected at the scene of the murder he allegedly committed, but the state refused.

Yesterday it was revealed that the Arkansas Department of Corrections would not allow members of the media to bring a paper or pencil into the viewing room. The court overturned a state circuit court judge's ruling Wednesday in favor of drug maker McKesson Corp., which had contested the use of its paralytic drug vecuronium bromide for executions.

McKesson sold the paralytic to the Correction Department in a transaction that the company says was a mistake.

"Tonight the lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts through decades of challenges has been carried out", said Attorney General Rutledge in a statement.

  • Audrey Hill