Arkansas’s horrific plan to execute eight men in two weeks met another roadblock Thursday night when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay in the execution of Ledell Lee.
Lee was one of two men set to be executed Thursday night. On Wednesday, his appeal for further DNA testing was denied, setting him up to be the first person executed in Arkansas in over ten years. A Supreme Court ruling also reversed the temporary restraining order issued by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that stopped the use of vecuronium bromide in executions, CBS News reports —a drug that manufacturer McKesson Corp. says was obtained by the state under false pretenses. With that ruling from the Supreme Court in place, Arkansas was prepared to proceed with Lee’s execution.
After a frenzied day of legal activity, CNN reports that the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution for Lee until 9:30 p.m. or further action by the court.
While the high court was considering Lee’s fate, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied multiple requests to halt Lee’s execution. Earlier Thursday night, the appeals court had issued, then extended, its own temporary stay of the execution, planned for 8 p.m. ET, while it reviewed those requests.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court spent much of Thursday debating an array of legal questions surrounding Governor Asa Hutchinson’s astonishing plan to hurry through these executions, including whether or not the schedule violated the Eight Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Fun fact: Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s “first official known act” was to permit the executions to proceed.
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer pointed to the ludicrous circumstances surrounding an execution spree pegged to the expiration date of the drugs involved was “close to random” and served to highlight “the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country.”
The rush to execute so many men in such a short period of time is tied to the drug midazolam which is the first of three drugs used in a lethal injection. The state’s supply will expire by the end of April.
Update (April 21, 12:21 a.m.): A report from NBC News said that as of an hour before Lee’s death warrant was set to expire, no decision had been reached by the Supreme Court.
At the last minute, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, put Lee’s execution on hold for 75 minutes. It was unclear which issue the court was debating. Lee’s defense team had earlier in the day requested a stay to prove his innocence through DNA testing. The U.S. Supreme Court then delayed the execution for 10 minutes and later the appeals court halted it for another 45 minutes.
The appeals court later denied all five of the motions, and the U.S. Supreme Court still had not ruled with an hour to go before Lee’s death warrant was set to expire.
Update (April 21, 1:06 a.m.): The AP reports that Arkansas carried out its first execution in over a decade. Ledell Lee died at 11:56 p.m. Thursday night.
Two more men are set to be executed Monday, with one more set for April 27th.