USA: Prayer vigils as Arkansas begins series of executions

Vigil - image Twitter

Vigil - image Twitter

By: Claire Bergin

A man who was held in a windowless cell on Death Row for 26 years was executed by lethal injection yesterday - at a prison in the State of Arkansas. Ledel Lee, 51, was convicted of the brutal murder of a 26 year old woman in 1993. He always protested his innocence. His defenders said no forensic evidence linked him to the crime.

In a recent phone interview with the BBC's Aleem Maqbool, Lee said again that he was innocent, and death row was like a "living nightmare.” Lee was offered a last meal before his execution but asked for Holy Communion instead.

Lee was killed with a combination of three medical drugs: medazolam to sedate him, vecuronium bromide to paralyse him, and potassium chloride to stop his heart. As pointed out on Twitter by Sister Helen Prejean, (the anti-death penalty campaigner played by Susan Sarandon in the movie Dead Man Walking) the drugs used in the triple cocktail of lethal injections on Thursday night illustrated the shady nature by which the state had acquired its instruments of death. Sr Helen tweeted: AR plans to execute Ledell Lee tonight using one almost-expired drug, one illegally-obtained drug, and one drug "donated" in a parking lot.

In earlier legal challenges that eventually failed to stick, the US healthcare giant McKesson had accused the Arkansas department of corrections of lying in order to acquire the second drug in the cocktail, vecuronium bromide. McKesson said in court filings that a state official had intentionally misled the medical distribution company into thinking that the chemical was needed as part of a routine restocking of the hospital wing of the prison service.

Wendy Kelley, the director of the corrections department, testified last week that she had personally acquired the third drug, potassium chloride, from a supplier who was so scared about his or her identity becoming public that they decided to “donate it”.

Lee was the first to die in the Republican-controlled state's historic attempt to kill eight condemned prisoners in the space of just 11 days. Governor Asa Hutchinson said the highly unusual timeframe was necessary because the state’s supplies of the sedative midazolam, used as the first of the three-drug cocktail in lethal injections, was expiring on 30 April and would be hard to replace. Critics and lawyers for the eight said the rushed plan could expose the men to the risk of cruel and unusual punishment through botched procedures.

Legal teams have managed to postpone the execution of three of the men, but three more killings are scheduled at the prison next Monday.

Crowds that had gathered to protest outside the governor's mansion in Little Rock prayed, chanted and held hands until Lee was pronounced dead just before midnight, and only four minutes before his death warrant had been due to expire.

Lee's lawyer, Nina Morrison, denounced the rushed execution, saying it "denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence.. While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent," she said in a statement.

Sr Helen Prejean tweeted: “Arkansas has killed Ledell Lee. Pray for his family. Pray for peace for the family of Debra Reese. Pray for an end to all forms of violence.”

The US Catholic J&P network, Catholic Mobilizing tweeted: “Christians like @AsaHutchinson celebrated Easter this week--the resurrection of an innocent man put to death by the State.” and “Lee has been executed. May this act of violence by #Arkansas deepen our hunger and thirst for justice and mercy.”

Charmaine Nero tweeted: 'Crowd visibly shaken up. Lots of tears, holding each other at the news.' #ARexecutions #Arenas

Read more about the Catholic Mobilizing Network here:

The death penalty has been abolished in 140 countries around the world. It was last used in the UK more than 50 years ago. The USA is the only country in North and South America that still uses Capital Punishment.

According to Amnesty International, at least 1,634 people around the world were executed in in 2015 Most were killed in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA – in that order.

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