A federal appeals court has delayed an Arkansas inmate’s execution for at least an hour to review his request to stop his lethal injection scheduled for Thursday night.
The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed Ledell Lee’s execution until 8:15pm on Thursday (01:15 GMT Friday) as it reviews his appeal.
It was the latest in a flurry of legal wrangling as the state seeks to carry out a series of executions before one of the drugs used in its lethal injection mix, the sedative midazolam, expires by the end of the month.
On Thursday evening, the US Supreme Court denied petitions to halt executions of several Arkansas inmates.
Earlier in the day, the top Arkansas court overturned a previous ruling that had blocked the use of one of the other three drugs the southeastern state planned to use.
Arkansas had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Courts have halted four of those executions. The state’s plan prompted a torrent of legal filings and raised questions about US death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes. Back-to-back executions set for Monday were indefinitely halted.
Previous legal battles have prevented the state from executing any prisoner since 2005.
Lee was convicted and sentenced to death for beating Debra Reese to death with a tire iron in 1993.
In ruling on the state’s lethal injection drug, the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the state that it did nothing illegal in acquiring the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in its lethal injections, and lifted an order by a state circuit judge on Wednesday that blocked its use.
US pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug for medical use, not executions, and that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out.
Arkansas had also planned to execute convicted murderer Stacey Johnson on Thursday. But the Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a halt to Johnson’s execution after he requested DNA testing he said could prove his innocence.
The attorney general’s office said on Thursday it would not appeal the decision, meaning his planned execution was off. Johnson was convicted of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Carol Heath.
The state’s protocol calls for use of midazolam to render the inmate unconscious, vecuronium bromide to stop breathing and a third chemical that causes cardiac arrest.
Anti-death penalty activists have protested in Arkansas against what has been labelled “assembly line killings”.
Midazolam has been linked to botched executions, and critics say it has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a petition that “Arkansas wants to use an execution drug combination – with midazolam – that’s never been used before in the state and that risks making prisoners feel as if they are burning alive from the inside while paralysed”.
Source: News agencies