Arkansas carrying out first executions since 2005 thanks to a deciding vote from Neil Gorsuch

Prisoner Ledell Lee, who 20 years ago was convicted for the murder of Debra Reese in a suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas, died Thursday night at the Cummins Unit prison from a lethal injection of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The decision to move forwards with Lee’s execution came after the Supreme Court rejected appeals that would have reversed the determination on Thursday, despite the fact that Lee still had requests to delay his death pending both with a federal appeals court and SCOTUS.

Lee’s is the first of eight executions that Arkansas plans to carry out over the next couple of weeks; the state has not put anyone to death since 2005.

Lee was represented by both the Innocence Project and the ACLU. Both organizations advocated for further DNA testing with regards to his case, in the hopes of getting Lee acquitted. “It is inappropriate for the state to rush to execute before a defendant’s innocence claim can be properly examined,” Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, told CBS News.

The Supreme Court had the chance to halt Lee’s execution Thursday, but instead voted to allow the state of Arkansas to proceed with its unprecedented plan with a 5-4 majority that included Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch. The majority did not provide an explanation for its decision, but Justice Stephen G. Breyer provided a dissent calling out the state of Arkansas for its haste:

“In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random. I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country. The cases now before us reinforce that point.”

The state of Arkansas planned their condensed barrage of executions for this month because its reserves of midozalam, the drug that renders inmates unconscious while their hearts are being stopped, were going to expire on April 30. Jeff Rozensweig, a defense lawyer who represents three of the men set to be executed, told CBS News that “this sort of reeks of an assembly line.”

[photo: Getty]