The US state of Arkansas carried out its first execution in more than a decade after the Supreme Court, in a last-minute series of orders, rejected requests by a death row inmate to stay his lethal injection.
Ledell Lee, who was condemned to death for the murder of Debra Reese more than 20 years ago in a Little Rock suburb, died at 11.56 pm on Thursday and was pronounced dead 12 minutes later at a prison in southeast Arkansas, the New York Times reported. Lee was executed shortly after the US Supreme Court denied emergency motions in his case. He received injections of three drugs: Midazolam, to render him unconscious; vecuronium bromide, to halt his breathing; and potassium chloride, to stop his heart. He requested the Holy Communion as his last meal, and declined to make a final statement, the Arkansas Department of Correction said. Arkansas's store of midazolam drug is set to expire at the end of the month and that is what triggered the Department of Correction to plan an unprecedented string of eight executions in ten days this month.
But four of these men have received stays for various reasons. The last execution carried out in Arkansas was in 2005. At one point on Thursday night, the Supreme Court nearly halted Lee's execution, but decided, 5 to 4, to allow the state to proceed with its plan. The court's majority —which included the newest justice, Neil M. Gorsuch — did not explain its decision, but in a dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer complained about how the state had established its execution schedule because of the approaching expiration date of Arkansas's stock of midazolam. Lee was convicted in 1995 in the murder of Debra Reese, 26, two years prior, the daily reported. Reese was found dead in her home in Jacksonville, where she had been strangled and beaten with a small wooden bat her husband gave her for protection.
Lee's execution prompted immediate criticism. "Today (Thursday) is a shameful day for Arkansas, which is callously rushing the judicial process by treating human beings as though they have a sell-by date," Amnesty International said in a statement. But Arkansas officials cast the execution as a milestone.
"The lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts has been carried out," Arkansas Attorney General said.