Arkansas overcame court challenges that derailed three executions, putting to death an inmate for the first time in nearly a dozen years as part of a plan that would have been the nation’s most ambitious since the death penalty was restored in 1976, the Associated Press reports. Ledell Lee’s lethal injection last night capped a chaotic week of legal wrangling that left the state scrambling to salvage any part of its attempt to execute eight men before one of its drugs expires at the end of April. Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire. He was put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbor Debra Reese, whom he struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband had given her for protection.
The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The first three executions were canceled this week by courts. Two more inmates are set to die Monday, and one next Thursday. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee’s execution less than an hour before his death warrant was set to expire, rejecting a round of last-minute appeals from the condemned inmate’s attorneys. “Arkansas’ decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs is expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence,” said Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project.