Lee, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for the killing 2 years earlier of Debra Reese in Jacksonville, was the first to die of 8 inmates whose executions were scheduled over 11 days this month.
3 others whose deaths were scheduled before Lee — Bruce Earl Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson — had their lethal injections halted through court challenges.
Lee pursued multiple appeals in the hours before his death, and while some resulted in temporary stays that pushed his lethal injection past its original 7 p.m. scheduled start time, none spared his life before the death warrant expired at midnight.
Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., 12 minutes after the execution process began. He was 51.
Lee did not make a final statement.
On Feb. 9, 1993, Lee bludgeoned Reese to death with a tire iron that her husband had given her as a form of protection.
Lee was arrested within an hour of Reese's death after some of the cash taken from her wallet was used to pay a bill at a Rent-A-Center store.
Reese's family declined to speak to reporters after the execution and said they would release a written statement later.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge noted that the family "has waited more than 24 years to see justice done."
"I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family,” Rutledge said.
3 other executions are scheduled for next week.
Lee becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Arkansas and the 28th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990.
Lee becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1449th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.
Sources: Arkansas Online & Rick Halperin, April 20, 2017
Arkansas carries out first execution since 2005 after Supreme Court denies stay requests
first execution in more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a last-minute series of orders, rejected requests by a death-row inmate to stay his lethal injection.
The execution followed a wave of criticism and tumult in Arkansas, which had set an unprecedented scheduled of executions, plans that were imperiled by a round of court orders halting at least some of the eight lethal injections originally set for April.
As part of its aggressive scheduling, which the state said was needed before one of its lethal-injection drugs expired, Arkansas had planned to carry out back-to-back executions on Thursday night at a state prison southeast of Little Rock. But that was abandoned when a state court blocked one of those lethal injections, and officials instead focused solely on plans to execute Ledell Lee, 51, by lethal injection.
Lee was sentenced to death in 1995 for the killing of Debra Reese, who was beaten to death in her home two years earlier. According to court petitions and his attorneys, Lee has long denied involvement in Reese’s death, and he was seeking DNA testing to try and prove his innocence.
Lee’s execution was confirmed by state officials. Court stays on Thursday night pushed the execution to the final minutes before the death warrant expired. Lee’s time of death was 11:56 p.m. local time and the execution took 12 minutes, during which he showed no apparent signs of suffering, according to the Associated Press, which had a reporter serve as a media witness.
The execution warrant for Lee, the seventh person executed in the United States this year, would have expired four minutes after he was pronounced dead.
Tonight the lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts through decades of challenges has been carried out,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R), who fought in court for the execution to proceed, said in a statement early Wednesday. Rutledge said she hoped that “this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family.”
Arkansas plans to carry out three more executions next week, although more court challenges are likely. Already, court orders have blocked off four of the other lethal injections planned this month.
Nina Morrison, a lawyer with the Innocence Project and an attorney for Lee, sharply criticized the execution not long after it had concluded.
“Arkansas’s 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,” Morrison said in a statement. “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
Appeals filed by Morrison and other attorneys for Lee hoping to delay his execution were rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit after that court briefly stayed the lethal injection. Lee’s attorneys also petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, not long after justices on Thursday night denied other stay requests filed by several Arkansas death-row inmates. The attorneys filed a volley of appeals at the high court seeking a stay of execution, saying that technology exists now that could verify his innocence and arguing that he has an intellectual disability that should prevent his execution.
The Supreme Court ultimately denied his stay requests in orders released by the court just before 11:30 p.m. at the Arkansas prison, following an hours-long delay imposed by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. so the high court could review the inmate’s appeals.
Alito, who is assigned cases from the federal circuit covering Arkansas, had issued an order delaying Lee’s lethal injection “pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.” He vacated his order after the justices declined all of the requests.
According to the orders, Alito referred the stay requests to the court, which denied them all without explanation. No justices logged dissents, though some had earlier Thursday said they would have granted stay requests from Lee and other inmates. Lee was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later.
Arkansas officials and death-row inmates have been battling in state and federal courts over the state’s compressed execution timeframe as well as its planned lethal-injection procedure. Earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) scheduled eight executions over 11 days in April, a pace unmatched for the modern American death penalty. Hutchinson said that it was not his preference, but that it is necessary because one of the state’s lethal-injection drugs will expire at the end of the month.
Arkansas officials defended the schedule, saying they have no guarantee of obtaining new lethal-injection drugs due to an ongoing shortage and have to carry out the death sentences of eight men convicted of capital murder. Death-row inmates, their attorneys and civil-liberties advocates have criticized the frantic pace, with former corrections officials joining them in saying they worry that it heightens the odds of a mistake.
The lethal-injection procedure used by Arkansas involved three drugs, all of which prompted complaints from companies that did not want their products used.
The first is midazolam, a controversial sedative that has been used in bungled or unusually long executions in Oklahoma, Ohio, Arizona and, in December, Alabama. This drug was acquired by Arkansas in 2015, just days after the Supreme Court upheld its use in Oklahoma’s executions, according to documents the state provided to The Washington Post, and is the one that officials say expires at the end of April.
According to the Arkansas lethal-injection procedure, inmates are injected with midazolam and, after they are deemed to be unconscious, officials inject them with vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Several death-row inmates in Arkansas, including Lee, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the executions, but the justices earlier Thursday night released orders denying these requests. This marked the first time Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who joined the court earlier this month, voted to create a conservative majority. In one of the orders, the court was split 5-4, with Gorsuch joining the majority in denying the stay and the court’s four liberal members saying they would have granted it.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who has previously questioned the “arbitrary” nature of the death penalty’s implementation, authored a critical dissent of Arkansas’ stated desire to carry out executions before its drugs expire.
“I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country,” he wrote. “And I have pointed out how the arbitrary nature of the death penalty system, as presently administered, runs contrary to the very purpose of a ‘rule of law.’ The cases now before us reinforce that point.”
As the court battling over the executions has continued, both Arkansas and the state’s death-row inmates have won key victories in court. By Thursday night, Arkansas appeared to have given up on at least four of the planned eight executions for this month after they were blocked by courts. After the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed one of the two executions set for Thursday night, a spokesman for the state’s attorney general said there were “no plans to appeal further at this time.”
On Monday night, the state’s first two planned executions were also blocked by the Arkansas Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to allow Arkansas to proceed with one of them; state officials said that as a result, they did not expect to carry out either execution this month. Another execution, originally scheduled for next week, was previously halted by a federal judge after a parole board said it would recommend changing that inmate’s sentence to life in prison.
Source: The Washington Post, Mark Berman, April 21, 2017
Arkansas Puts Ledell Lee to Death, in Its First Execution Since 2005
VARNER, Ark. — The State of Arkansas, dismissing criticism that it intended to rush too many prisoners to their deaths too quickly, on Thursday night carried out its first execution in more than a decade. Using a lethal injection drug that has been the subject of sharp constitutional debate, the state plans to execute three more men by the end of the month, before its supply of the chemical expires.
Ledell Lee, who was condemned to death for the murder of Debra Reese more than 20 years ago in a Little Rock suburb, died at 11:56 p.m. Central time at the Cummins Unit, a prison in southeast Arkansas, after the reprieves he had won in federal and state courts were overturned. He received injections of three drugs: midazolam, to render him unconscious; vecuronium bromide, to halt his breathing; and potassium chloride, to stop his heart.
State officials administered the lethal injection at 11:44 p.m., after Mr. Lee, who requested holy communion as his last meal, wordlessly declined to make a final statement. Sean Murphy, a reporter for The Associated Press who witnessed the execution, said Mr. Lee was not visibly uncomfortable as he was put to death. The prisoner, Mr. Murphy said, was not responsive when the authorities performed consciousness checks.
An evening of appeals kept Mr. Lee, 51, alive as his death warrant neared its midnight expiration. The United States Supreme Court, as well as a federal appeals court in St. Louis, issued temporary stays of execution while they considered his legal arguments. In Little Rock, the Arkansas capital, Gov. Asa Hutchinson monitored developments at the State Capitol.
At one point on Thursday night, the Supreme Court nearly halted Mr. Lee’s execution, but decided, 5 to 4, to allow the state to proceed with its plan, which had called for eight prisoners to be put to death over less than two weeks. 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.
“In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random,” Justice Breyer wrote. “I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country. The cases now before us reinforce that point.”
Through his lawyers, who raised concerns about his intellectual capacity and the personal conduct and conflicts of some people who were involved in his trial, Mr. Lee maintained his innocence, and a state judge’s ruling threatened to block the state from using one of its execution drugs.
But the courts ultimately allowed his death sentence to be carried out, making him the first prisoner in Arkansas to be executed since 2005. He had been sentenced to death in 1995 after a jury found that he had murdered Ms. Reese with a tire thumper in Jacksonville. In a 1997 ruling that upheld the conviction, the Arkansas Supreme Court said Mr. Lee had struck Ms. Reese 36 times with the small bat-shaped tool, which her husband had given her for protection.
The Arkansas Parole Board said this month that Mr. Lee’s plea for executive clemency was “without merit,” and this week, the courts repeatedly rebuffed arguments to, at the least, delay his execution.
“Arkansas’s 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,” Nina Morrison, one of Mr. Lee’s lawyers, said in a statement. “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
As Mr. Lee’s lawyers spent Thursday urging the courts to spare his life, the cascade of legal developments did not affect the stay of execution that another inmate, Stacey E. Johnson, received on Wednesday evening, about 24 hours before he was scheduled to be put to death.
Mr. Johnson has also claimed innocence, and the State Supreme Court’s decision will allow for new forensic testing of some evidence. He was convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of Carol Heath, whose two children, according to the state, “were left alone overnight with their mother’s lifeless body.”
Some of the most pitched legal clashes surrounding Arkansas’s planned executions centered on the state’s execution drugs, including midazolam, a common sedative that has been used in executions in the United States since 2013.
Source: The New York Times, Alan Blinder, Manny Fernandez, April 21, 2017
Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty protesters react to Lee execution
|Protesters with Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty|
gathered outside the governor's mansion Thursday night.
LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — Outside the governor's mansion late Thursday night, some anti-death penalty protesters shed tears and hugged each other as they found out death-row inmate Ledell Lee had been executed.
The protest, organized by the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, started at 6:00 p.m.
Many held out hope that the Supreme Court of the United States would grant a stay for Lee's execution. However, the stay was lifted at 11:23 p.m.
The protest ended shortly after Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m.
Furonda Brasfield, the group's executive director, said there were tears of sadness because most protesters are people of faith, and don't believe that executions are the way.
"We thought that our state and that our governing officials would do better, because we know that we can do better," said Brasfield. "Taking a life is never the answer. Murder is never excusable, especially a premeditated murder in this way."
"Out of whatever blood lust that our officials in the state have, we executed a man today," said Brasfield. "And I say we, because our state did this, like we're all implicit in the murder of this individual."
The group does plan to hold vigils for the remaining death-row inmates on the nights of their scheduled executions.
Source: KATV, Kimberly Rusley, April 21, 2017
Arkansas executes first death row prisoner in 12 years - minutes before warrant due to expire
|Arkansas' death chamber|
Ledell Lee originally among eight inmates scheduled to be killed by lethal injection before legal challenge derailed plan
Arkansas has overcome a flurry of court challenges that derailed three other executions and put to death an inmate for the first time in nearly 12 years.
Ledell Lee's execution was among eight originally scheduled before a lethal injection drug expires on 30 April - a plan which would have been the country's most ambitious since the death penalty was restored in 1976.
Lee was pronounced dead at 11.56pm local time on Thursday, four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.
The 51-year-old showed no signs of consciousness two minutes after the start of his execution, which began at 11.44pm.
With his arms extended, covered with a sheet, and his head and hands covered with leather straps, Lee made no final statement and showed no apparent signs of suffering during the execution.
“The governor knows the right thing was done tonight,” said JR Davis, a spokesman for Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who scheduled the multiple executions.
“Justice was carried out.”
Lee was put on death row for the 1993 murder of his neighbour Debra Reese, whom he struck 36 times with a tyre tool her husband had given her for protection.
Lee was arrested less than an hour after the killing after spending some of the 300 dollars he had stolen from Mrs Reese.
Source: The Independent, Kelly Kissel, Sean Murphy, April 21, 2017
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