He was the first person in a group of what had been eight men Arkansas originally planned to execute in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. On Wednesday, inmates asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case challenging the use of a sedative used in flawed executions in other states and one of three drugs Arkansas plans to use in its executions.
The lethal injection capped a chaotic week of legal wrangling that left the state scrambling to salvage any part of an aggressive schedule of eight executions before one of its drugs expires at the end of April.
In their arguments to the high court Thursday, state lawyers contended that Gray had exceeded her authority because her prohibition on the drugs acted as a stay of execution and that circuit judges do not have the authority to block executions. Three executions were cancelled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put at least one of the other five in doubt. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has filed a motion to have that order overturned and the state is proceeding with execution preparations. Rutledge's office said the attorney general would not appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Arkansas officials are vowing to press ahead despite the setback to plans to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus.
Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese. That's true whether it's the inmate who is seeking an eleventh-hour reprieve or the state that wants to put a prisoner to death. Four of the men have received stays for various reasons.
The frenetic filing of lawsuits and appeals in Arkansas has a profound impact on those awaiting execution, on their families and on the relatives of their victims. The judge ruled on a lawsuit by USA pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc which accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretences.
Arkansas has carried out its first execution since 2005, just minutes before the expiration of the inmate's death warrant.
Governor Asa Hutchinson said he was "both surprised and disappointed" by the latest legal delays.
But after the resumption of the death penalty on Thursday, Hutchinson's spokesman J.R. Davis said: "Justice was carried out".
A judge has ruled that the state will not be able to use one of the drugs used in the execution process, halting the upcoming executions altogether.
A state circuit judge issued the temporary restraining order on Wednesday after the US pharmaceutical firm McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide under false pretences.
In the vecuronium bromide case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug previous year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages.
With Arkansas' executions looming, McKesson petitioned Gray for a temporary restraining order to bar the state from using the vecuronium bromide until the ownership of the drugs could be decided in court.
The United States Supreme Court lifted the stay of execution almost 30 minutes before Lee's death warrant was set to expire.
The US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St Louis considered a last-minute request from Lee for DNA testing, and had issued a stay until 9:15pm on Thursday (01:15 GMT Friday). With a 500 mg dose listed in the state's execution protocol, Arkansas expects that the inmates will not be aware they are dying.
About 30 minutes before, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the state to proceed with Lee's execution.
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