Arkansas poised to carry out first execution since 2005

Before Lee's death, all executions had been put on hold in the state after a judge issued a restraining order on a key lethal injection drug. The state had planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting April 17, saying its lethal-injection drugs will expire at the end of the month.

The state Supreme Court has denied multiple stay requests from Ledell Lee, but his attorneys are fighting on other fronts in state and federal court to halt his execution.

The Wednesday order halting Johnson's execution was issued by a now-familiar 4-3 split of the state high court.

Johnson was convicted of murder in 1997, and had been scheduled to be executed Thursday. With arms extended, covered with a sheet, his head and hands covered with leather straps, Lee made no final statement and showed no apparent signs of suffering during the execution.

Lawyers for the eight inmates, including Lee, had argued the state's rush to the death chamber amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, violated the inmates' right to counsel and their right to access the courts and counsel during the execution process. They won stays from the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday after lawyers argued their mental health issues were similar enough to those raised in an Alabama case going before the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

"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.

The schedule has been attributed to the expiration date of Arkansas' supply of midazolam, the first drug administered in the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections.

Lee is set to be executed at 7 p.m.

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Numerous legal clashes over Arkansas's plan focus on use of the drug midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs stop the heart. (It also applies to one other man on death row who has not been scheduled for execution.) The company McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., sold these drugs to Arkansas Department of Correction and has argued in court the state misrepresented how it meant to use the drug. Those appeals are pending at the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the US Supreme Court.

Amnesty International USA, which opposes capital punishment, called Thursday's execution a "shameful day for Arkansas".

A state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug a year ago in a way that there would not be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages, the AP news agency reported.

An inmate set to die Thursday night is asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to block his execution so he can pursue more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence.

This story has been corrected to show that the inmate's name is Ledell Lee, not Lendell Lee.

Arkansas officials have said they are unable to obtain the necessary drug from any other source, and have acknowledged in court papers that should McKesson prevail, all pending executions would be effectively blocked.

The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. If he is put to death, his killing will be Arkansas' first execution since 2005.

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