Arkansas executes Ledell Lee in first death penalty use in 12 years

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  •  As UN security council warns North Korea to stop nuclear tests or face sanctions

Arkansas has executed Ledell Lee in the US state’s first use of the death penalty in 12 years.

It is the first of a series of executions expected after the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling blocking the use of a lethal injection.

Justices reversed the ban on the use of vecuronium bromide, one of the three drugs used by the state.

Lee’s third request to stay the execution was denied.

He was pronounced dead at 2356 local time on Thursday (0456 GMT on Friday) at the state’s death chamber in its Cummins Unit prison, a Department of Corrections spokesman said.

Lee did not make a final statement. Instead of a last meal, he asked to receive communion, an official said.

The state had planned to carry out eight executions in 11 days, before its supply of the lethal injection drug, midazolam, expired on 30 April.

The first three executions were cancelled due to various court rulings.

Lee told the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in a recent interview that he was innocent of the murder of Debra Reese, and death row was like a “living nightmare”.

The other inmate due to die on Thursday has been given a stay to make time for advanced DNA testing that his lawyers say could prove his innocence.

Stacey Johnson was convicted of the murder of Carol Heath, who was beaten and had her throat slit in her flat in 1993.

The ruling on Thursday paves the way for the series of executions the state had planned this month.

Like many US states, Arkansas has struggled to find the drugs it needs to carry out executions. Its last was in 2005.

In the meantime, the UN security council has strongly condemned North Korea’s latest missile test and threatened to impose new sanctions against Pyongyang for its “highly destabilizing behavior”.

In a unanimous statement, the council demanded that North Korea “conduct no further nuclear tests”, saying Pyongyang’s “illegal missile activities” were “greatly increasing tension in the region and beyond”.

The council threatened to “take further significant measures including sanctions” to address the crisis of North Korea’s missile launches.

While previous statements have warned of further measures, the agreed text made specific mention of sanctions, signaling a tougher stance from the council.

“If we have to start looking at sanctions or other actions, we will,” the US ambassador, Nikki Haley, told reporters.

The US-drafted statement was agreed upon after Russia insisted that language stressing the need to achieve a peaceful solution “through dialogue” was included in the final text.

Moscow had blocked an earlier version of the statement – which comes after North Korea carried out a failed test on Sunday – even though China, Pyongyang’s ally, had expressed its support for it.

However, the Russian charge d’affaires, Petr Iliichev, denied blocking the statement, saying the US had broken off talks on a consensus position in an “abrupt manner”.

Council statements are adopted by consensus among all 15 members.

“At the end of the day we realized that North Korea is a problem,” Haley said.

“No one on the council wants to see North Korea move forward with any sort of testing or strikes,” she added, saying that the agreed statement makes that “very clear”.

The US, which holds the rotating council presidency this month, has scheduled a ministerial-level meeting on North Korea next week, to be chaired by the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

While no resolution will be adopted during the 28 April session, the US and its allies are expected to turn up the pressure on China to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang.

The council has imposed six sets of sanctions on North Korea – two of which were adopted last year – to significantly ramp up the punitive measures and deny Kim Jong-un’s regime hard currency revenue.

Pyongyang is seeking to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year.

Vice-President Mike Pence vowed on Wednesday that the US would counter any North Korean attack with an “overwhelming and effective” response.

BBC with additional report from Guardian

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