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Arkansas court clears the way to execute death row inmate with hours to spare

by Carter Sherman
Apr 20 2017, 7:24pm

With just hours to go before Arkansas death row inmate Ledell Lee’s scheduled execution, the state cleared one of its last legal hurdles.

On Wednesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray issued a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vercuronium bromide, after its distributor filed a complaint alleging it had not known the state planned to use it as part of its lethal-injection cocktail.

The order effectively halted all of Arkansas’s pending executions, but the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed that order Thursday evening. The court didn’t provide an explanation why.

On Thursday, a divided U.S. Supreme Court also denied the inmates’ request for stays of execution, which were submitted to the court after the Court of Appeals for the 8th U.S. Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that would have halted all of the state’s executions.

Arkansas has encountered numerous legal battles since announcing its unprecedented plan to execute eight men in just 11 days, and so far, lawsuits have kept any death row inmates from facing the needle. One man was recommended for clemency, while another two received stays of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court earlier this week. Stacey Johnson, another inmate, was also originally set to be executed alongside Lee on Thursday, but the Arkansas Supreme Court granted him a stay on Wednesday.

Lee also applied for multiple stays of execution, but two have so far been denied. However, just an hour before his execution was due to start at 7 p.m. CT, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delayed it until 8:15 p.m. in order to review another request for a stay.

Lee was originally sentenced to death in 1995, for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese.

CORRECTION (April 27, 11:37 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the role of the plaintiff seeking the temporary restraining order. It was sought by a drug distributor, not a drug manufacturer.