Arkansas carries out first execution since 2005

Anti-death penalty supporters Abraham Bonowitz left and Randy Gardner wait near their taped off

On Thursday the state's Supreme Court overturned a ruling blocking the use of a different drug.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said he took issue with the state trying to use the drugs before their expiration date.

Arkansas's Republican governor Asa Hutchinson has said the accelerated execution timetable is necessary as the state's stock of a controversial sedative will expire at the end of the month.

"Apparently the reason the state made a decision to proceed with these eight executions is that the "use by" date of the state's execution drug is about to expire..." The court, in a narrow 4-to-3 decision, blocked the execution of Stacey Johnson, 47, who has been on death row since 1994. The number of executions has fallen every year since 2009, (except 2012, when it stayed the same). But a divided Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that prisoners did not prove the drug entailed "a substantial risk of severe pain". Without the use of the drug, Arkansas would not be able to carry out executions unless it obtains a replacement drug for its protocol. "The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes ... the reason the State chose to proceed with these eight executions is that the "use by" date of the State's execution drug is about to expire". Leewas the state's first inmate put to death in more than a decade.

Arkansas executed prisoner Ledell Lee Thursday night. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. issued the final denials on Lee's appeals, and the stay was lifted about 11:30 p.m.

"Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution twenty-four years later", the Innocence Project said in a statement following Lee's execution.

Lee has maintained his innocence since the murder 24 years ago and his last efforts to stay his executions were met with denials from both Arkansas and federal courts.

Lee was convicted in 1995 in the 1993 beating death of his neighbor, Debra Reese.

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Hikma Pharmaceuticals, the parent company for West-Ward, which the AP identified in 2015 as the likely maker of Arkansas' midazolam, also wrote letters to the Correction Department previous year seeking the return of its drugs.

McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc, a pharmaceutical wholesaler, had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug for medical use, not executions, and that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out.

His execution followed a flurry of court rulings Thursday, capped by the US Supreme Court's denial of multiple requests for stays of execution.

New justice Neil Gorsuch voted with the majority of five on the U.S. Supreme Court to deny the stay of execution sought by Lee and the other inmates. Ms Rutledge's office said the Attorney General would not appeal to the US Supreme Court over that case.

The U.S. Supreme Court will allow Arkansas to proceed with first execution since 2005, according to The Associated Press. He was sentenced to death for the 1993 killing of Carol Heath, 25.

Two more inmates are set to die Monday, and one on April 27. "Today's techniques are much more sophisticated and precise than the methods used before trial", attorney Jeff Rosenzweig said after the ruling.

Reese's family declined to speak to reporters after the execution and said they would release a written statement later.

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