Arkansas has been racing against a self-imposed clock to execute eight death row inmates before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires on April 30. Four of the eight inmates scheduled for execution have received court reprieves, but on Thursday night, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, 51, who was convicted of murdering his neighbor with a blunt object. It was the state's first execution since 2005. Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant expired. His last meal, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction, was holy communion.
Earlier Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court had lifted a stay on using a second drug in the state's three-drug lethal-injection cocktail, vecuronium bromide, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay the executions of Lee and other petitioners, 5-4, with new Justice Neil Gorsuch siding with the court's four other conservatives. In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer highlighted the rationale for rushing the executions. "Apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the 'use by' date of the state's execution drug is about to expire," he wrote. "In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random. ... I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country. The cases now before us reinforce that point."
The next two executions are scheduled for Monday, and another on April 27.