Convicted murderer Ledell Lee was executed in Arkansas on Thursday shortly before midnight, the state’s first death row execution since 2005.
Witnesses said Lee had no final words before he was given a lethal injection, minutes before his death warrant was set to expire.
Outside the governor’s mansion, vigils were held in protest. On social media, pictures and video showed protesters praying, or carrying signs that read “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Others bore candles during the somber ceremonies.
Lee’s last meal, according to the Associated Press, was Holy Communion.
Thursday’s execution put Arkansas squarely in the center of the death penalty debate, renewed after the state announced plans to put eight people to death over the course of 11 days this month in a race to use its lethal injection drugs before one of them expires.
Courts had blocked the first two executions, which had been scheduled for Monday, as well as another that had been scheduled for Thursday.
But they allowed the execution of 51-year-old Lee, who had sought a last-minute stay through the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court after lawyers from the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union argued for fresh DNA testing that they believed would vindicate him.
Lee was convicted in the 1993 murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese, the mother of a 6-year-old boy. She was robbed and strangled in her Jacksonville, Ark., home. Prosecutors said Lee then beat her 36 times with a tire…
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