Arkansas executes first inmate in 12 years

Handout photo of inmate Stacey Johnson scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas
Inmate Stacey Johnson is shown in this booking photo provided March 25, 2017. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

April 21, 2017

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) – Arkansas executed its first inmate in 12 years on Thursday after a protracted legal battle that questioned aspects of the use of the death penalty in the United States, which fell to a quarter-century low in 2016.

Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT at the state’s death chamber in its Cummins Unit prison, a Department of Corrections spokesman said. Lee did not make a final statement.

Lee was convicted and sentenced to death for beating Debra Reese to death with a tire iron in 1993. Reese’s relatives were at the Cummins Unit and told media Lee deserved to die for a crime that ripped their lives apart.

Lawyers for Lee, who had spent more than 20 years on death row, had filed numerous motions in various courts ahead of the lethal injection that had put the process on hold.

Lee had maintained his innocence for years and was seeking DNA tests his lawyers said could prove his innocence.

He was the first person in a group of what had been eight men Arkansas originally planned to execute in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Courts have halted four of those executions.

The state’s plan prompted an unprecedented flurry of legal filings that argued the process should be halted, citing problems with U.S. death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes.

Back-to-back Arkansas executions set for Monday were halted indefinitely.

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petitions for the group. One of them was a 5-4 decision in which new Justice Neil Gorsuch sided with the four other conservative justices in denying the motion, while the court’s liberals dissented.

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson set the execution schedule because one of the three drugs used in Arkansas executions, the sedative midazolam, expires at month’s end.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said he took issue with the state trying to use the drugs before their expiration date.

“In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to

random,” he wrote.

One of the drugs in the Arkansas mix, midazolam, had been used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates appeared to twist in pain on death chamber gurneys.

Pool reports said there were no visible reaction from Lee after the drug mix was administered.

“I pray this lawful execution brings closure for the Reese family,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement.

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Numbers and methods of U.S. executions http://tmsnrt.rs/26wAN2v)

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(Reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Bill Trott, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

  • Glenda Hammer

    To not execute these men because it might cause them some pain, is so very touching.
    What about the pain the victims went through before dying horrible deaths, and the sympathizers are carrying signs to not harm these psychos. The main reason for putting these murderers down, is to make sure they never ever kill again.

  • Pingback: Arkansas nears first executions in 12 years after court decisions – USA News – Real Unbiased News()

  • Roberto Martinez Jr

    Line them up…..

  • R A.

    KILL IT NOW!!
    ALL OF EM” !

  • disqus_D87XRi0Gy7

    Yep they didn’t give much chance to the women these less than men killed. I would bet they are shaking in their boots now. It is a shame when you know some worthless murderer is allowed to suck our treasury dry when you know he is guilty without any doubt, one should have been executed 20 years ago. How much of a man does it take to beat a helpless woman to death using a tire iron. Did the victims get a chance to file a stay, no they sure as hell didn’t. They should hang them and then there would be none of this planned delay by these paid for liars called lawyers

  • R A.

    Git-Er-Done NOW
    Televise EVERY EXECUTION NATIONWIDE – Pay per view – all proceeds would go their victim’s families.
    Of course, if they all started using the guillotine, or lynching, or firing squad, ratings would go WAY UP!
    Beer, peanuts and popcorn sales would skyrocket!

  • Marc S.

    Bullets are cheaper

    • Bailey

      True.