Arkansas carried out its first execution in nearly a dozen years despite a flurry of legal challenges that spared three convicted killers, but courts still could scuttle the remainder of the nation’s most ambitious death penalty schedule since capital punishment was restored in 1976. Ledell Lee was pronounced dead minutes before midnight Thursday.
Arkansas first wanted to put eight inmates to death before the state’s supply of midazolam, one of three drugs used in its lethal injection process, expires at the end of April.
Three of those executions were canceled this week because of court decisions. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay. But Arkansas wants to put two other inmates to death Monday and another one next Thursday.
Ledell Lee, 51, was put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbor Debra Reese, who was struck 36 times with a small wooden tool her husband had given her for protection. He was arrested less than an hour after the killing after spending some of the $300 he had stolen from Reese.
Ledell Lee was administered the lethal injection at 11:44 p.m. Thursday (12:44 a.m. ET). He was pronounced dead 12 minutes later. The execution was carried out without any apparent glitches. There had been concern because midazolam was used in some flawed executions in other states.
Lee made no final statement and showed no apparent signs of suffering during the execution.
Ledell Lee’s execution went ahead after the US Supreme Court rejected last-minute appeals from his lawyers. But at least one high court justice expressed serious reservations about what critics have called Arkansas’ rush to the death chamber.
Two other inmates, Jack Harold Jones and Marcel W. Williams sentenced to death for capital murder, are scheduled to be executed Monday.
Thirty-one states currently administer the death penalty, and lethal injection is the primary means of execution in all of them. The number of executions carried out in the United States fell to a 25-year low in 2016.