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Arkansas Supreme Court Approves Execution Of 1 Death Row Inmate


Late today, the Arkansas Supreme Court cleared the way to execute an inmate tonight. The state had planned to put eight men to death before the end of the month when its stock of lethal injection drugs expires, but a flurry of court rulings had delayed all of those executions until now.

We're joined by Bobby Ampezzan of Arkansas Public Media who's covering this story. And Bobby, there were two executions originally scheduled for tonight. One has been delayed. The other is now back on. What do we know about the condemned man?

BOBBY AMPEZZAN, BYLINE: That's right, Ari. Actually, we're dealing with a case where the fates of these two men couldn't be more different. The gentleman who is facing execution tonight is Ledell Lee. His attorneys have tried numerous, numerous court actions over the last 48 hours. His fate largely rested on this case out of Pulaski County Circuit Court. That's the court - that's the county for Little Rock. Judge there put a - an injunction on the state's - 1 of the 3 lethal injection drugs that the state planned to use.

Late today, the state's Supreme Court stayed that injunction, and Ledell Lee's execution is back on. It would take intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court to change that. The other gentleman, Stacey Johnson - the Supreme Court stayed his execution, and it would take the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the state Supreme Court for his execution to be back on.

SHAPIRO: And so was this decision fundamentally about the drug being used in the execution?

AMPEZZAN: Very much so. The McKesson - I'm sorry. The company is McKesson. They make the vecuronium bromide drug. This is the - sometimes described as a paralytic or a muscle relaxer. It's the second of the three drugs that's administered. McKesson has argued that they didn't sell the state this drug, or rather they didn't sell the state the drug to be used in executions. And now they find out that it is going to be used that way. The state has said, no, we've been forthright with this company all along. We told them that it was for executions. The - again, the county judge agreed with the pharmaceutical supplier. The state Supreme Court overruled them today.

SHAPIRO: You said that it would take the Supreme Court here in Washington, D.C., to change this. What is the likelihood of another intervention coming before this execution is scheduled to go on?

AMPEZZAN: Generally speaking, the U.S. Supreme Court does not overturn a lower court's decision this late in the game. So I could tell you that every media reporter in the state and even internationally from Sweden and Switzerland is converging right now on Cummins prison. They expect an execution to happen tonight in Arkansas.

SHAPIRO: That's Bobby Ampezzan of Arkansas Public Media. Thank you very much for joining us.

AMPEZZAN: Thank you, Ari.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we say that McKesson Corp. makes the muscle relaxer vecuronium bromide. In fact, McKesson Corp. supplies the drug but does not manufacture it.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 20, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
In this story, we say that McKesson Corp. makes the muscle relaxer vecuronium bromide. In fact, McKesson Corp. supplies the drug but does not manufacture it.
Bobby Ampezzan is a native of Detroit who holds degrees from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) and the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville). He's written for The Guardian newspaper and Oxford American magazine and was a longtime staff writer fortheArkansas Democrat-Gazette. The best dimestore nugget he's lately discovered comes from James Altucher's Choose Yourself(actually, the Times' profile on Altucher, which quotes the book): "I lose at least 20 percent of my intelligence when I am resentful." Meanwhile, his faith in public radio and television stems from the unifying philosophy that not everything be serious, but curiosity should follow every thing, and that we be serious about curiosity.