Arkansas Executes Convicted Murderer Ledell Lee As Battle Continues Over Three Executions Planned This Week

Convicted murderer Ledell Lee was executed Thursday in Arkansas, the first in the state in more than a decade.

According to The Washington Post, Ledell, 51, was put to death by lethal injection for the 1995 murder of Debra Reese. Ledell was convicted for fatally beating the woman in her home. His execution was carried out despite multiple attempts to clear his name through post-conviction DNA testing. He has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process.

Arkansas, which has not carried out an execution since 2005, has been embroiled in a battle over the death penalty since authorities announced plans to execute eight inmates during an 11-day span that would end next Thursday. The state of Arkansas wanted to expedite the executions because their lethal-injection drugs were set to expire by the end of April.

Four of the executions have been halted by the courts. The other three remain on schedule.

Lee’s execution was delayed by three hours as lawyers for the convicted murderer scrambled to file with a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution. The Supreme Court denied requests from Lee and several other death-row inmates and Lee’s execution was allowed to proceed.

The 5-4 decision by the nation’s highest court became the first decision by newly appointed Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. He sided with other conservatives on the court, rejecting the request to stay Ledell Lee’s execution, which began at 11:44 p.m. local time at a state prison about 75 miles southeast of Little Rock, reported KFOR.

Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Nina Morrison, a lawyer with the Innocence Project and an attorney for Lee, criticized the court’s decision in a statement following the execution.

“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. 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.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R), who sided with the conservative court, said in a press release that she hopes the execution of Ledell Lee will provide some peace for Reese’s relatives.

“Tonight the lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts through decades of challenges has been carried out. The family of the late Debra Reese, who was brutally murdered with a tire thumper after being targeted because she was home alone, has waited more than 24 years to see justice done. I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family.”

Another execution that was scheduled for Thursday was stopped by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Stacey E. Johnson, 47, was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of Carol Jean Heath. Like Lee, she is seeking post-conviction DNA testing to prove his innocence.

More appeals are expected in the coming days as Arkansas prepares three more executions.

Rutledge says she will “respond to any and all legal challenges brought by the prisoners.”

“The families have waited far too long to see justice, and I will continue to make that a priority.”

But attorneys for the men still facing execution say the drugs used are inhumane.

Midazolam, which is the first drug administered and used to make inmates unconscious before two more drugs paralyze and kill them, does not effectively prevent a painful death, Jeffrey Rosenzweig, an attorney for three of the inmates, told KFOR.

“Unless the prisoner is unconscious, then drugs two and three will cause pain — torturous punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and state guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.”

[Featured image by the Arkansas Department of Correction via AP]