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Arkansas executes first inmate since 2005

Arkansas has executed an inmate for the first time in nearly a dozen years as part of its plan to execute several inmates before a drug expires April 30, despite court rulings that have already spared three men.

Ledell Lee’s execution was the first in the state since 2005. He was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Thursday, four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.

Media witnesses to the execution said Lee lost consciousness quickly. They entered the death chamber at 11:40 p.m. CDT and the curtains were drawn back four minutes later, as the first drug (midazolam) entered his body. The entire process took 12 minutes. 

Lee, 51, was put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbor 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 U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug expires on April 30. The first three executions were canceled because of court decisions.

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

The U.S. 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 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.

Justices on Thursday reversed an order by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that halted the use of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection process, in any execution. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with…

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