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Arkansas carried out its first execution since 2005 after green light from Supreme Court

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UPDATE April 21, 6:34 a.m. EST:

Arkansas conducted its first execution in nearly a dozen years after a flurry of legal challenges that had spared three convicted killers.

Ledell Lee was executed by lethal injection Thursday night for killing a woman in 1993.

The injection started at 11:45pm. Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56. Arkansas looks to put two more inmates to death Monday, and one next Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

UPDATE April 19, 7:28 p.m. EST:

The Arkansas Supreme Court halted one of two executions set for Thursday night, once again delaying the state's plans to conduct several executions before the drug for legal injection expires at the end of April, according to the Associated Press.

The court ruled that Stacey Johnson could pursue his requests for enhanced DNA testing in hopes of proving his innocence in the 1993 rape and killing of Carol Heath.

"We've established that modern DNA testing methods can prove Mr. Johnson's innocence, and Arkansas law clearly established that Mr. Johnson is entitled to that testing," said Karen Thompson, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, on Tuesday after the appeal was filed. "It's just common sense that before the government sends a man to his death, we should use the best scientific methods to make sure we have convicted the right person."

UPDATE April 18, 9:11 p.m. EST:

Two Arkansas death row inmates, Marcel Williams and Stacey Eugene Johnson, asked a federal judge to halt their executions because they say they are too obese for the drugs to work on them effectively, affiliate KATV reported. Williams' lawyer wrote that his client gained 200 pounds in prison. Williams has stayed in a 90-square-foot cell, which is half the size of a standard parking space, and gets one hour of recreational time a day.

"Williams has been housed in extreme solitary confinement, he has gained 200 pounds and developed high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. The prison has recorded Mr. Williams' body mass index at 48.74," his lawyer said.

Separately, Johnson's lawyer said that his client weights 350 pounds and suffers from hypertension and sleep apnea.

Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the Emory University School of Medicine, found that Johnson's large size could botch the execution and "makes it more likely that the execution will fail and Mr. Johnson will be left alive, but disabled from the attempt."

"Dr. Zivot concluded that if the Arkansas lethal-injection protocol is carried out as written, Mr. Johnson, in particular, will suffer respiratory distress and hypoxia, and he is at serious risk for irreversible organ damage or for a suffocating, painful death," the lawyer said.


UPDATE April 18, 7:33 a.m. EST:

The Supreme Court declined to overrule the Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling early Tuesday morning, preventing the scheduled lethal injections from taking place as scheduled, The Washington Post reports. 

This prevents the first of eight executions scheduled for April from taking place. Gov. Asa Hutchinson argues the executions need to take place soon because the state's lethal injection drugs will soon expire, and a shortage prevents them from restocking.

Tomorrow we will continue to fight back on ... efforts to block justice for the victims' families.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Hutchinson did not seem ready to give up on the legal battle, promising to "fight back" in a Tuesday morning statement. 

Don Davis, 54, is the first person scheduled for execution. He was sentenced to death in 1992 for killing Jane Daniel. 

ORIGINAL STORY: A federal judge on Saturday halted Arkansas’ plans to execute eight men by the end of the month over concerns about the drugs used to carry out the executions.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a preliminary injunction requested by the inmates, saying the men have a right to fight against the state using drugs that could cause "severe pain."

"The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern," she wrote.


Baker’s ruling comes after two pharmaceutical companies on Wednesday filed to have the state blocked from using their drugs, saying the Arkansas Department of Correction may have not followed protocols in the drugs’ distribution.

The executions were supposed to begin Monday in an unprecedented move by Arkansas authorities, who had hoped to use midazolam, one of the state’s lethal injection drugs, before it expires on April 30. The state hasn't executed an inmate since 2005, and it has not carried out a double execution since 1999.


"It is unfortunate that a U.S. district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice," said Judd Deere, an office spokesman.

"Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge plans to immediately appeal to the Eighth Circuit and ask that today's injunction imposed by the district court be lifted." The state's attorneys have called the challenge an effort to delay the executions indefinitely and have said they don't have a replacement identified for the drug if it expires.


--The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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