Arkansas prepares to carry out first execution since 2005

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"The governor knows the right thing was done tonight", said JR Davis, a spokesman for Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who scheduled the multiple executions. John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-G.

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel).

In the death chamber, Lee was asked twice for any last words and he refused both times.

Anti-death penalty supporters Abraham Bonowitz (l.) and Randy Gardner wait near their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday.

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The executions set for Thursday would have been the first in Arkansas in a dozen years, and the eight together would have been the most for any state in as a short a period since the USA death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Lee was pronounced dead at 11.56pm local time on Thursday, four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.

Pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight inmates, who contend the compressed execution schedule increased the likelihood of a botched execution and that one of the three drugs, midazolam, has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents.

The state had originally scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April but the first three executions were cancelled because of various court decisions.

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.

Brother of Ledell Lee believes he did not murder Debra Reese
Brother of Ledell Lee believes he did not murder Debra Reese

Arkansas has set two more executions for April 24 and April 27.

Lee was convicted of beating Debra Reese to death with a tire iron in 1993. Lee was arrested less than an hour following the killing and after spending some of the $300 he had stolen from the victim. There had been concern because midazolam was used in some flawed executions in other states.

Lee had been on death row for at least the past two decades. He made no final statement and did not show signs of suffering as his execution was carried out, according to the Associated Press.

Arkansas planned to carry out back-to-back executions on Thursday night at the state prison, located southeast of Little Rock.

The executions would be the most by any state in the shortest period since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in the United States in 1976.

The hours before Lee's execution were filled with appeals, even reaching the US Supreme Court, which issued a temporary stay as they reviewed his legal arguments on Thursday evening before voting 5 to 4 in favor of moving forward with the execution.

"In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random", Justice Stephen Breyer wrote Thursday in a dissent.

"The reason that last night was as chaotic as it was is that the stay applications involved substantive issues directly related to Ledell Lee's case, plus group issues raised by all the prisoners related to the execution process and to the clemency process, plus issues raised by the drug distributor about the impropriety of Arkansas's actions in deceptively obtaining the execution drugs", says Dunham.

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