LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – Arkansas on Thursday night executed its first death-row inmate in 12 years after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal that allowed the state to use its lethal injection drugs on convicted killer Ledell Lee.
Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Central Standard Time, 12 minutes after the execution began. Lee was sentenced to death for the murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese, who was bludgeoned to death by a tire tool in her Jacksonville home in 1993.
He became the first prisoner to be put to death in the state’s original plan that called for eight executions over an 11-day span before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of April. Legal challenges have stopped four of those executions.
The U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday refused to halt Lee’s execution after he unsuccessfully petitioned the Eight Circuit for a stay.
The Arkansas Supreme Court earlier Thursday denied a request from McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. to stop the state from executing anyone using vecuronium bromide in its lethal injection protocol.
The medical supply company argued in a Tuesday lawsuit that the Arkansas Department of Correction had illegally obtained 10 boxes of the drug and that using it in executions would damage the company’s reputation.
Arkansas Supreme Court Judge Josephine Hart wrote in a dissenting opinion that it was unfair of the court to grant a stay to death-row inmate Stacey Johnson for DNA testing only a day before, while denying one to Lee.
“I am at a loss to explain this court’s dissimilar treatment of similarly situation litigants,” Hart wrote. “The court’s error in denying the motion for stay will not be capable of correction.”
McKesson said in a statement that it was disappointed in the court’s ruling.
“We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product,” the company’s statement said.
Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project, said that Lee continued to insist his innocence until his execution. Attorneys with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a flurry of legal challenges requesting more time to prove Lee’s innocence with more DNA testing.
“Arkansas’s 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,” Morrison said. “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Reese’s family waited more than 24 years “to see justice done.”
“I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure to the Reese family,” she said.
Arkansas has two more executions scheduled for Monday and a third on Thursday. Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are scheduled for lethal injections on Monday, while Kenneth Williams is slated to die Thursday.