Arkansas has executed an inmate for the first time in almost a dozen years as part of its plan to execute several inmates before a drug expires April 30, despite court rulings that have already spared three men.
Until Lee's execution Thursday night the state had been thwarted by the courts on each execution. The two sides have been waging battles in state and federal courts over these lethal injections.
"While other states have increasingly come to the conclusion that the capital punishment system is beyond fix", he said, "Arkansas is running in the opposite direction from progress". Initially, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. That case resulted in a hung jury and was dropped after Lee was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of Reese.
They would be the second and third inmates executed by Arkansas this month.
His execution will be Arkansas' first since 2005.
With Gorsuch's vote, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision on Thursday that Arkansas can carry on with its plan to kill more inmates than any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state is racing to carry out the executions before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month. The state originally scheduled an unprecedented eight executions between April 17 and 27, but several cases are now tied up in the courts.
A Wednesday ruling by an Arkansas circuit court also seemed to hold up the executions. One week later, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that blocked six of the executions, and the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an emergency stay blocking the seventh. Arkansas believes that secrecy it grants to suppliers can solve that problem, though it still has difficulty obtaining the drugs.
The state has scaled back its plans in the face of orders from other courts affecting some of the inmates. Four other men on death row have received stays for various reasons.
Williams' "morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line can not be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung)", his attorneys wrote in an earlier court filing asking justices to block the execution.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Innocence Project, who represented Lee, pushed for new DNA testing on the grounds that the testing used when Lee was convicted was less sophisticated and has been discredited. Johnson was convicted of the 1994 murder of Carol Heath.
The Supreme Court examined the use of Midazolam in the 2015 case Glossip v. Gross, ultimately ruling that its use did not violate the Eight Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment".
"If I were in the state's shoes, I would be prepared for nearly double the level of scrutiny", said Brian Gallini, a law professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Lee was unresponsive during consciousness checks, according to U.S. media, and was pronounced dead at 11.56 pm, 12 minutes after receiving the lethal injection. During his first post-conviction hearing, his lawyer was drunk during the trial and interjected "blah, blah, blah" into his statements. "Lee and identify the real perpetrator of the crime".