Court divides on Arkansas executions

Court divides on Arkansas executionsThe battle over efforts by Arkansas to execute eight inmates in 11 days returned to the Supreme Court this evening. Earlier this week, the justices declined to step in and overturn a stay issued by the state supreme court that resulted in a reprieve for two inmates whose cases involved issues similar to those the […]

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Court divides on Arkansas executions

The battle over efforts by Arkansas to execute eight inmates in 11 days returned to the Supreme Court this evening. Earlier this week, the justices declined to step in and overturn a stay issued by the state supreme court that resulted in a reprieve for two inmates whose cases involved issues similar to those the justices will consider next week in an Alabama capital case. But another group of inmates did not fare as well in their challenges relating to Arkansas’ death penalty protocol. The inmates needed at least five votes to block the upcoming executions, but they could only get four votes (those of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) in one case and three votes (Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) in another.

Arkansas had hoped to carry out the executions before the end of the month, when the state’s supply of midazolam – a sedative used in the state’s lethal injection protocol – expires. One inmate, Ledell Lee, was scheduled to be executed tonight for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, whom he robbed, strangled, and beat with a tire iron. Justice Samuel Alito, who is responsible for emergency appeals from the geographic area that includes Arkansas, issued a temporary stay to allow the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Supreme Court to consider new filings by Lee, who argues (among other things) that he should be allowed access to DNA testing that would prove his innocence. The 8th Circuit denied relief late tonight, but the Supreme Court’s stay remained in effect as of 11:30 p.m. Eastern – approximately 90 minutes before the warrant for Lee’s execution is set to expire.

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