On the morning of April 20, it seemed entirely possible that Ledell Lee would live to see another day. Lee, an Arkansas inmate on death row for murder since 1995, was scheduled to die that evening, but he had been granted a temporary reprieve, thanks to a court ruling barring Arkansas from using one of the drugs needed to kill him.
But the ruling would be reversed later that afternoon by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which allowed the state to continue using the drug, vecuronium bromide. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to put a stop to the execution.
At 11:56 pm Central time, Lee became the first person to be put to death in the state of Arkansas in 12 years. He had maintained his innocence the entire time.
Before April is done, it’s possible that three more men will join him—part of a grim marathon of death that Arkansas is racing to complete by the end of the month.
Lee’s—carried out in the face of disturbing questions about the fairness of his trial and sentence—has, once again, elevated the issue of the death penalty in America to the forefront of the national conversation.
To better understand capital punishment in America—how it works, who it affects, and the myths that continue to surround it—we’ve compiled 10 of the best long form articles on the subject from Fusion and around the web.
1. “There Is No Justice in Killing Dylann Roof,” by Clint Smith, The New Yorker
“Those who support the death penalty are accepting a practice that is both ineffective and fundamentally flawed. It means supporting a system that not infrequently kills those with serious mental illness. It means supporting a system in which an execution is far more likely to take place when the convicted murderer is black and the victim is white, than it is when the victim is black and the killer is white. It means supporting a system that has sentenced, and continues to sentence, innocent people to death. In our impulse to rid the world of those we find reprehensible, we forget that we are also ridding the world of those who have done nothing wrong.”
2. “Racism Is Keeping the Death Penalty Alive,” by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee, Fusion
“One question on the ANES survey asks respondents, “Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?” We compared this data with other ANES questions that ask respondents questions about racial resentment—such as whether they think black people are lazier and more violent than white people...whites who displayed high levels of racial resentment in their responses were far more likely to support the death penalty.”