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First execution in Arkansas race to use up lethal injection drugs

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Graves says Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.

Ledell Lee, 51, was convicted of murdering Debra Reese in 1993.

In recent years, state death chambers have struggled to obtain the drugs they use to execute inmates because many drug companies refuse to sell drugs for this goal. Three executions were canceled because of court decisions, and court rulings have put at least one other in doubt. Another Arkansas prisoner, Stacey Johnson-who had also been scheduled to die Thursday-was granted a stay by the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, a reprieve that stemmed from a bid to have an evidentiary hearing connected to his request for DNA testing.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves says Lee did not make a final statement before his execution began at 11:44 p.m. CT Thursday.

After another day of legal drama, the execution got underway shortly after word came that the U.S. Supreme Court would not take action to prevent the state from putting Lee to death via lethal injection.

The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. That 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.

"During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation's prisons and death rows by DNA evidence", Morrison said in a written statement.

Arkansas officials have been trying to push through the run of executions because the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of April and the chances of getting a substitute are slim.

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McKesson Corp., a drug company, has asserted that the state of Arkansas bought vecuronium bromide under false pretenses; McKesson does not sell the drug for executions. The cases were part of a blitz of executions by the state created to occur before its stockpile of lethal-injection drugs expires.

The schedule has been attributed to the expiration date of Arkansas' supply of midazolam, the first drug administered in the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections.

"[Arkansas Department of Corrections] personnel used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson salesperson", McKesson's brief read.

Last-minute appeals seeking to conduct DNA testing in an attempt to prove his innocence were rejected less than an hour before his death.

"I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure to the Reese family", she said.

When Souter joined the Supreme Court in 1990, abortion opponents thought they might have enough votes to overturn the landmark abortion rights ruling of Roe v. Wade, which was decided in 1973 by a 7-2 vote. That case resulted in a hung jury and was dropped after Lee was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of Reese. Breyer has described the arbitrary nature of capital punishment as one reason he has concluded after more than 20 years on the court that the death penalty probably is unconstitutional. "That factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random", wrote Justice Stephen Breyer.

Gallini said trying to salvage the rest of the execution schedule could invite even more intense legal battles "because what started out as kind of a press release and a decision has ballooned" into trending hashtags and worldwide news coverage.

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