Arkansas executed its first inmate in 12 years on Thursday after a protracted legal battle that questioned aspects of the use of the death penalty in the United States, which fell to a quarter-century low in 2016.
The state originally set eight executions over an 11-day period in April, which would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The third, potassium chloride, brings on cardiac arrest and stops the heart.
In the vecuronium bromide case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug a year ago in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages. The remaining six could still theoretically be put to death this month, though two of those inmates have received stays that the state hasn't yet appealed.
Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of one lethal injection drug expires.
One of the drug companies was granted a restraining order after arguing in court that their drug wasn't supposed to be used for capital punishment. Arkansas Department of Correction Deputy Director Rory Griffin said he didn't keep records of the texts, but McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins did. But a divided Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that prisoners did not prove the drug entailed "a substantial risk of severe pain".
Thirty-one states now administer the death penalty, and lethal injection is the primary means of execution in all of them.
"When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries' sentences to be carried out since each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each", Hutchinson said in a statement.
After a hiatus of almost 12 years, the execution was carried out without any apparent glitches. Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese, 26, two years prior, reports CNN.
He beat her to death with a tyre tool that her husband had given her to use for her own protection.
Several of Reese's neighbors saw Lee near the house and identified him to police.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary stay until 8:30 p.m. CDT as the Supreme Court considered Lee's requests for a stay, while the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a separate temporary stay until 9:15 p.m. Thursday as it considered a separate appeal.
Amnesty International called on Arkansas to halt the "conveyor belt of executions". In Little Rock, the Arkansas capital, Gov. Asa Hutchinson monitored developments at the State Capitol. But that was abandoned when a state court blocked one of those lethal injections, and officials instead focused exclusively on plans to execute Lee, the Chicago Tribune reported. The state's elected prosecutors also criticized the roadblocks to the execution plans.
The Supreme Court played a key role in Thursday's execution.
Up until Lee's final minutes, it was not certain that he would be executed.
The Arkansas Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee's execution earlier Thursday, overturning an injunction that blocked the use of a lethal injection drug.
Lee, who maintained he was innocent, declined to eat a last meal and instead took communion.