Arkansas carries out first of planned executions

The department of corrections had sprung into action shortly after 11.30pm local time (5:56am CET) on Thursday, after the USA supreme court gave its leave for the killing to go ahead. The court's majority - which included the newest justice, Neil M. Gorsuch - did not explain its decision, but in a dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer complained about how the state had established its execution schedule because of the approaching expiration date of Arkansas's stock of midazolam.

But, he said, to have the prospect of the man's execution arise and disappear over the years means reliving the hurt of the murder itself, and that every stay of execution now feels like an insult to his wife.

The state originally set eight executions over an 11-day period in April, which would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The second drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzes the inmate. Prisons director Wendy Kelley has said the state has no way to obtain more midazolam or vecuronium bromide.

"Arkansas' decision to rush through the execution of Mr Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence", said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organisation that helped represent Lee in his last appeals.

"ADC (the Arkansas Department of Correction) personnel used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson salesperson", the brief said.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petitions for the group. The remaining six could still theoretically be put to death this month, though two of those inmates have received stays that the state hasn't yet appealed.

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Thirty-one states now administer the death penalty, and lethal injection is the primary means of execution in all of them. The number of executions carried out in the United States fell to a 25-year low in 2016.

Lawyers for Lee, 51, who had maintained his innocence for years, had launched last-minute appeals to halt the execution with federal courts and the Supreme Court.

Investigators said Lee beat Reese with a tire iron that Reese carried to protect herself, at the behest of her husband. Without the drug, the state couldn't carry out any executions. In Little Rock, the Arkansas capital, Gov. Asa Hutchinson monitored developments at the State Capitol.

Some experts say midazolam isn't a heavy-duty anesthetic and doesn't stop inmates from feeling pain - violating the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

On Thursday the state's Supreme Court overturned a ruling blocking the use of a different drug. It then voted to allow the state to proceed with the execution.

About 30 minutes after the high court's ruling, Lee was pronounced dead. Ledell Lee appears in Pulaski County Circuit Court Tuesday, April 18, 2017, for a hearing in which lawyers argued to stop his execution which is scheduled for Thursday.

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