Arkansas Conducts 1st Execution Since 2005, Plans 3 More in April

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Death row inmate Ledell Lee has been executed in Arkansas, the State's first in 12 years, shortly after the US Supreme Court denied emergency motions in his case, the media reported on Friday.

Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 pm CDT at the state's death chamber in its Cummins Unit prison, a Department of Corrections spokesman said.

Thursday's execution put Arkansas squarely in the center of the death penalty debate, renewed after the state announced plans to put eight people to death over the course of 11 days this month in a race to use its lethal injection drugs before one of them expires.

The decision came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Arkansas' request to execute Don Davis, who has waited on death row for almost three decades for the 1990 murder of Jane Daniel.

An Arkansas inmate who was executed late Thursday showed no apparent signs of suffering and lost consciousness quickly after the lethal injection began.

Amnesty International called on Arkansas to halt the "conveyor belt of executions". But despite Lee's lawyers argument that he had a mental disability that had never been properly evaluated, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request for a stay.

In federal court testimony last week, doctors differed on whether midazolam is an appropriate execution drug, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in 2015 that it is. The next two men - Jack Harold Jones, Jr. and Marcel Williams - are scheduled to die April 24, followed by Kenneth Williams on April 27. The supplier McKesson Corp. has said it sold Arkansas the drug for use in inmate health care, not executions. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, which is considering a last-minute request from Lee for DNA testing, has issued a stay until 9:15pm.

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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.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended the unprecedented schedule because the state's supply of one of the lethal drugs expires at the end of April.

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.

The legal delays frustrated Hutchinson. The judge blocked the state from using its supply of pancuronium bromide, the second drug in the state's three-drug cocktail. Another state judge granted such an order last week, but he was quickly criticized by Rutledge and others for attending a death-penalty protest the same day and was removed from the case by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which vacated his order.

Lee's attorneys filed a flurry of appeals in hopes of stopping his execution, which was Arkansas' first in the state since 2005.

McKesson has previously sought and won such an order blocking the state from using the vecuronium bromide. Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissent he was troubled by Arkansas' push to execute the inmates before its supply of midazolam expires. "That factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random".

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