Arkansas executes first murderer since 2005


VARNER, Ark. (AP) - Ledell Lee's series of challenges failed late Thursday and the state put him to death by lethal injection shortly before midnight.

A judge sentenced Lee to death in 1995 for the murder in 1993 of Debra Reese in Jacksonville. He was the first to die of eight inmates who had been scheduled for executions over 11 days starting last Tuesday.

Court challenges halted the executions of the three convicted murderers who were set to die this week before Lee. They are Bruce Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson.

The execution ended a frantic day for Lee's case. His execution originally was set for 7 p.m.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary stay until 8:30 p.m. CDT as the Supreme Court considered Lee's requests for a stay, while the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a separate temporary stay until 9:15 p.m. Thursday as it considered a separate appeal. Eventually, all the stays were lifted.

Lee's attorneys filed a flurry of appeals in hopes of stopping his execution, which was Arkansas' first in the state since 2005.

Lee, 51, died at 11:56 p.m., 12 minutes after the execution process began. His execution warrant would have expired at midnight, and the Department of Corrections would have had to seek a new one from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Lee did not make a final statement. Reese's family also declined to talk to reporters but said they would release a written statement early Friday.

Investigators said Lee beat Reese with a tire iron that Reese carried to protect herself, at the behest of her husband. Officers arrested Lee an hour after the murder on Feb. 9, 1993 after he used some cash that he stole from Reese to pay a bill at a store.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of one lethal injection drug expires. The first three executions were canceled because of court decisions. Legal rulings have put at least one other in doubt.

Three more executions still are scheduled for next week.