Crime In Arkansas, Behind the Executioner’s Shroud

01:58  28 april  2017
01:58  28 april  2017 Source:   The New York Times

Inmate slated to die Thursday due at hearing

  Inmate slated to die Thursday due at hearing LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — One of the five Arkansas inmates who are still scheduled to die before the end of the month is due at a hearing regarding his request for further DNA testing of evidence from his case. Ledell Lee was moved from prison Tuesday morning and was expected at a 1:30 p.m. hearing in Little Rock. He is one of two inmates scheduled for execution Thursday.The 51-year-old Lee was sentenced to die for the 1993 killing of his neighbor Debra Reese, who was struck 36 times with a baseball bat-like tool. He is also serving prison time for the rapes of a woman and teen from Jacksonville.

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The Cummins Unit, a prison in southeast Arkansas, is where the state carries out its executions. © Danny Johnston/Associated Press The Cummins Unit, a prison in southeast Arkansas, is where the state carries out its executions.

When a three-drug lethal-injection cocktail was administered to Ledell Lee at 11:44 p.m. Central time last Thursday — the first drug to render him unconscious, the second to halt his breathing, and the third to stop his heart — Alan Blinder and Manny Fernandez, two New York Times journalists, were huddled in the Cummins Unit prison’s large visitation room. It had been converted into a makeshift media center, close to but cut off from the execution chamber.

Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, the first drug in the cocktail, is set to expire at the end of April, and, in a race against the clock, the state drew up an unprecedented plan to carry out eight executions in 10 days. The Times has been reporting from Arkansas since April 17. Since then, four executions have been blocked and three have been carried out — including two this past Monday, the first time in nearly 17 years that a state has executed two inmates on the same day. Another man, Kenneth Williams, is scheduled to die on Thursday.

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When the Times reporters, Mr. Blinder and Mr. Fernandez, arrived at the prison on April 20, they were allowed to bring only one laptop and a single Wi-Fi hot spot — and no cellphone — between the two of them. Shortly after 11:30 p.m. local time, an announcement came from a prison spokesman that the state was commencing with Mr. Lee’s execution. The media room grew quiet.

“We’d gotten word by then that the courts had lifted all the stays, that there was nothing blocking the execution,” Mr. Blinder said. “And then we waited.”

Although certain aspects of the execution process in Arkansas hint at an outward sense of transparency — the state allowed three journalists to witness the execution in a room adjacent to the execution chamber, for instance — much of the process is shielded from view.

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  Arkansas court blocks 1 execution set for Thursday The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions planned for Thursday night, once again throwing a wrench in the state's plans to conduct several executions before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires.The court ruled that Stacey Johnson could pursue his requests for enhanced DNA testing in hopes of proving his innocence in the 1993 rape and killing of Carol Heath. The Innocence Project filed the appeal along with Johnson's attorney."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

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“Arkansas is very secretive about its execution procedures,” said Mr. Blinder, who has reported on criminal justice issues from more than a dozen states. “In terms of what can be made public — the logistics, the people involved, their background, their training — there’s a lot we don’t know about their approach to this.”

The state of Arkansas, he added, also refuses to disclose the manufacturers and the sellers of its execution drugs. (The pharmaceutical industry disclosed some information during litigation.)

Other states, including Georgia and Texas, where Mr. Blinder and Mr. Fernandez have covered executions, respectively, similarly veil information about capital punishment. In Georgia, for example, a law classifies identifying information about the execution team as “a confidential state secret.”

“It’s a real challenge when you’re trying to cover the execution and you don’t have a road map for how exactly the execution might proceed,” he added.

Arkansas Can Execute One Inmate Tonight, Court Rules

  Arkansas Can Execute One Inmate Tonight, Court Rules The state of Arkansas was preparing to execute one man Thursday night mere hours after a court overruled a restraining order that blocked the state's use of one of its lethal injection drugs. Faced with a number of legal hurdles, Arkansas in the early evening won a legal victory allowing it to move forward with the execution of Ledell Lee at 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m.) on Thursday.The state Supreme Court sided with state prosecutors and tossed a restraining order that a county court on Wednesday night had placed on Arkansas's use of the paralytic vecuronium bromide — one of three drugs in the lethal injection cocktail.

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Of course, the state’s attempts to shield certain information regarding executions were not the only complicating factors. Reporting on executions is inherently challenging, given the intensely emotional atmosphere and the extreme public scrutiny. Those involved — from state officials to the family members of both the victim and the inmate — are often hesitant to speak with the press. And emotions, understandably, run high.

“A lot of complex issues emerge over the course of these stories,” Mr. Blinder said, “and many of them get at some of the most fundamental questions that we face as a society — like whether the state should be putting people to death, and, if so, how.”

But there are other questions, too, Mr. Blinder said — lingering questions about an inmate’s guilt, or about the fairness and thoroughness of the legal system.

“All these substantive debates are swirling around when it comes to executions,” he said. “And suddenly they all come home to roost.”

Through it all, Mr. Blinder adheres to one rule: Do not blindly accept the state’s account of the execution. “That’s one of the most important parts of reporting on these stories,” he said. “We wait to hear from the media witnesses who observed the execution — to tell us if they saw anything abnormal, or improper, or to relay if anything had gone wrong with the execution.”

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  Federal judges deny efforts to delay Arkansas executions Two Arkansas inmates scheduled to be put to death Monday in what could be the nation's first double execution in more than 16 years asked an appeals court on Sunday to halt their lethal injections because of poor health that could cause complications. Lawyers for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Sunday to grant them stays of execution.Jones' lawyers say he suffers from diabetes and is on insulin, has high blood pressure, neuropathy and had one leg amputated below the knee. He is on heavy doses of methadone and gabapentin.

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In the case of Mr. Lee’s execution, the three reporters returned to the media room from the witnessing room shortly after Mr. Lee was pronounced dead and reported no obvious complications. Mr. Lee’s eyes began to droop about a minute after the injection began, according to one of the reporters who was present, and the inmate showed no signs of suffering.

Mr. Blinder and Mr. Fernandez’s experience of the event, though, was much more removed. Just before midnight, a phone in the visitation room began to ring, and a spokesman for the prison system — seated next to it, also waiting — lifted it from the receiver. He nodded, and made a few notes, then hung up the phone and made his way to a lectern in front of the few dozen journalists from various media outlets who were gathered there.

The execution had been carried out, the spokesman said; Mr. Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m.

Not much later, after hearing from the witnesses, Mr. Blinder and Mr. Fernandez filed their story, packed up their laptop and left.

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The child was swept away by floodwaters in northern Arkansas.The Madison County Sheriff's Office says searchers found the boy's body on Monday in Glade Creek near Hindsville, about 130 miles northwest of Little Rock.

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