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Despite public outcry, US state carries out first in series of executions

Ledell Lee’s execution was among eight inmates originally scheduled to be put to death before a lethal injection drug expires on 30 April.

Ledell Lee
Ledell Lee
Image: Benjamin Krain

THE US STATE of Arkansas carried out its first execution in nearly a decade, the state’s attorney general said, proceeding despite criticism that its controversial plan to execute several prisoners by the end of the month was rushed.

Ledell Lee was put to death late on Thursday night after the US Supreme Court rejected eleventh-hour requests to stay the execution. He received injections of three drugs, including one that has sparked sharp legal debate.

Ledell Lee’s execution was among eight inmates originally scheduled to be put to death before a lethal injection drug expires on 30 April. He was pronounced dead at 11.56pm, four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.

Lee showed no signs of consciousness two minutes after the start of his execution, which began at 11.44 pm. With arms extended, covered with a sheet, his head and hands covered with leather straps, Lee made no final statement and showed no apparent signs of suffering during the execution.

“The governor knows the right thing was done tonight,” JR Davis, a spokesman for Governor Asa Hutchinson, who scheduled the multiple executions. “Justice was carried out.”

Arkansas Executions Johnny Depp joined protesters last week to demonstrate against the death penalty. Source: STEPHEN B. THORNTON

Lee, 51, was put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbour Debra Reese, whom Lee struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband had given her for protection. Lee was arrested less than an hour after the killing after spending some of the $300 he had stolen from Reese.

The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The first three executions were cancelled because of court decisions.

“I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement issued minutes after Lee’s execution.

Two more inmates are set to die on Monday, and one on 27 April. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay.

Execution

The US Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee’s execution less than an hour before his death warrant was set to expire at midnight, rejecting a round of last-minute appeals the condemned inmate’s attorneys had filed. An earlier ruling from the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was obtained by misleading the company cleared the way for Lee’s execution.

“Arkansas’ decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence,” said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that helped represent Lee in his last appeals.

Arkansas dropped plans to execute a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, on the same day after the state Supreme Court said it wouldn’t reconsider his stay, which was issued so Johnson could seek more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence.

Read: Another death row inmate’s life spared in Arkansas >

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