BtS Issue Update April 22, 2017: Arkansas’s Lethal Injection Push
Between the Synapse issue update on Arkansas’s rush to execute 8 people in 11 days.
Late in the evening on April 20, the State of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee for the 1993 murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese. Put to death by lethal injection, the 51-year-old Ledell was Arkansas’s first execution since 2005 and the first of eight initially planned executions over the course of 11 days, a binge brought on by the April 30, 2017 expiration date of the state’s supply of one of the three chemicals required for lethal injection.
New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the fifth and deciding vote denying Lee’s final, last minute appeal. Contrary to Justice Gorsuch’s eager engagement in his first Supreme Court argument, he declined to explain his vote in his first Supreme Court decision as neither he nor the remaining majority issued an opinion. In one of two written dissents, Justice Breyer complained that Arkansas based the execution schedule on the approaching expiration date of its stock of midazolam. “In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random.” He continued, “I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country. The cases now before us reinforce that point.”
Convicted of the 1993 strangulation of Debra Reese in a Little Rock suburb, Lee insisted of his innocence from the time of his arrest to the night of his execution. He repeatedly begged the state for a DNA test to prove his innocence, a forensic option unavailable at the time of his conviction. Instead of delaying his execution to allow for DNA testing, Arkansas, with the blessing of the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, accorded greater consideration to the expiration of a chemical agent over that of a life. As stated by Lee attorney Nina Morrison, “Arkansas’s decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence … While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”