U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled on his first case on April 20, which allowed the execution of Ledell Lee and other inmates in Arkansas.
Steven Mazie of The Economist tweeted on April 20: "After #SCOTUS cleared the way, Arkansas just executed Ledell Lee, a man claiming innocence whose lawyer was drunk during his trial[.]"
The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 vote opened the way for Lee's execution less than one hour before his death warrant would have run out, notes The Associated Press. Gorsuch voted with the majority 5 to deny the stay of execution.
Lee was executed for killing his neighbor Debra Reese in 1993 by hitting her 36 times with a tire tool.
The state of Arkansas had planned four double executions before the state's stash of an execution drug, midazolam, expires on April 30, which concerned U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
"Apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the 'use by' date of the state's execution drug is about to expire..." Breyer wrote in his written dissent. "...In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random."
Arkansas Prisons Director Wendy Kelley has said there is no way to obtain more midazolam or vecuronium bromide (another lethal injection drug).
McKesson Corp., a drug company, has asserted that the state of Arkansas obtained vecuronium bromide under false pretenses; McKesson does not sell the drug for executions.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray ordered a halt on the drug for executions, but she was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
McKesson said in a statement: "We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product."
The drug manufacturers of midazolam and potassium chloride, two more drugs used by Arkansas in executions, tried to help in McKesson's court battle over the vecuronium bromide.
The pharmaceutical companies believe diverting their drugs for executions presents a public health risk and violates rules within the companies' distribution.
Arkansas' elected prosecutors seemed to ignore the drug companies' concerns, and placed the blame on the inmates.
"Through the manipulation of the judicial system, these men continue to torment the victims' families in seeking, by any means, to avoid their just punishment," said the prosecutors in a joint statement on April 20.
Gorsuch's nomination to the high court was praised by 60 national and state "pro-life" anti-abortion groups, noted The Washington Times.
Arkansas has planned two more executions for April 24, and one execution for April 27.