It is the first of a series of executions expected after the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling blocking the use of a lethal injection.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said took issue with the state trying to use the drugs before their expiration date. Without the drug, the state couldn't carry out any executions.
Lawyers for Lee, who has maintained his innocence for years, launched last-minute appeals to halt the execution with federal courts and the US Supreme Court.
After condemned inmates are given a sedative called midazolam, they receive injections of vecuronium bromide, which relaxes the respiratory system, and a third drug that stops their heart.
Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay.Arkansas prepared late Thursday to carry out its first execution since 2005 after three other lethal injections planned by the end of the month were scrapped in the face of court challenges. He said on Wednesday he was "both surprised and disappointed" by the delays. "I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country".
The US state of Arkansas carried out its first execution in almost a decade, the state's attorney general said, proceeding despite criticism that its controversial plan to execute several prisoners by the end of the month was rushed. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The ruling clears the way for Arkansas to execute Ledell Lee on Thursday night, although he still has pending requests for reprieve.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed Gray's decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which lifted Gray's order Thursday afternoon, the Associated Press reported.
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Lee pursued multiple appeals in the hours before his death, and while some resulted in temporary stays that pushed his lethal injection past its original 7 p.m. scheduled start time, none spared his life before the death warrant expired at midnight. On Thursday, his attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit asking for a stay of his execution to allow more time for new DNA testing in the case.
Hikma Pharmaceuticals, the parent company for West-Ward, which the AP identified in 2015 as the likely maker of Arkansas' midazolam, also wrote letters to the Correction Department previous year seeking the return of its drugs.
In the other case Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay on the execution of Johnson, whose lawyers asked for more time to have new DNA testing done and presented as evidence in the case, claiming it will prove his innocence.
The McKesson Corporation, which supplied the drug, had accused the Arkansas Department of Correction of failing to say it planned to use the drug for executions.
The state of Arkansas plans to execute three more men next week to beat the clock on their expiring drug supply.
Johnson was convicted of the murder of Carol Heath, who was beaten and had her throat slit in her flat in 1993.
Two more Arkansas inmates are set to die on Monday, and one on April 27. "Lee and identify the real perpetrator of the crime". Hutchinson pointed to the dissents and said he knows "families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review".