Arkansas death row inmate faces execution after injunction lifted

Ed Pilkington in New York
Ledell Lee’s only chance to avoid execution Thursday night is to appeal to the US supreme court. Photograph: Benjamin Krain/AP

Arkansas is preparing its death chamber for a possible execution Thursday night after the state supreme court lifted a temporary injunction blocking its use of a medical drug that a US healthcare giant had been duped out of under false pretences.

The state’s top court sided with the Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge and overturned an earlier lower court ruling that had imposed an injunction that had stymied any executions from going ahead. The ruling in effect allows the state to resume its highly contentious plan for a spate of quick-fire executions before its batch of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of the month.

Two executions are scheduled for Thursday night. One of them, Stacey Johnson, remains on hold after the state supreme court agreed with his lawyers that he should have the chance for DNA testing on crime-scene materials that would either prove his innocence or confirm his guilt.

But the life of Ledell Lee, the second prisoner facing an execution on Thursday, now hangs in the balance. His only chance to avoid being placed on a gurney and injected with three deadly chemicals, some time after 7pm, now rests with the US supreme court, to which he will appeal at the eleventh hour.

The injunction lifted by the supreme court related to a lawsuit brought by McKesson, one of the country’s leading distributors of medical supplies. The San Francisco-based company had charged the Arkansas department of corrections of effectively lying to it by pretending that it wanted vials of vecuronium bromide, the second drug used in the triple lethal injection cocktail, to replenish routine supplies of its hospital wing.

Lee, 51, was put on death row for the brutal 1993 murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her home in Jacksonville. He broke into the house and strangled her before beating her with a tire thumper.

Lee is one of eight condemned men who had been scheduled to die in 11 days under the audacious plan of the Republican governor Asa Hutchinson that has brought critical attention around the US and the world onto Arkansas. Legal intervention has so far blocked the executions of four of the prisoners, and after Thursday’s scheduled killings, a further three still remain to be thrashed out in the courts.

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