First execution in Arkansas race to use up lethal injection drugs

Convicted murderer Ledell Lee receives a lethal injection on the US state's 'conveyor belt of death'

Lethal injection death chamber

US state Arkansas has carried out its first execution in 12 years as it rushes to use up its supply of lethal injection drugs before they expire at the end of the month.

Convicted murderer Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead just before midnight on Thursday evening, 12 minutes after being injected.

He requested the holy communion as his last meal and declined to make any final statement.

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Lee had spent more than 20 years on death row for the 1995 murder of Debra Reese and maintained his innocence.

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The execution came after a frenzied day of appeals before the US Supreme Court finally ruled to allow Arkansas to proceed, hours before Lee's death warrant was due to expire.

Lee was one of eight inmates the state is trying to execute over ten days - a scheme labelled a "conveyor belt of death" by The Guardian's Ed Pilkington.

It is an unprecedented move. Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN: "No state has ever conducted eight executions over a ten-day period."

Four of the planned executions have been blocked by the courts, but three more men are scheduled to die over the coming days.

Among the legal challenges raised is the use of the sedative midazolam in the three-drug-cocktail. It has been linked to at least four botched executions and critics say it has resulted in gruesome scenes of inmates gasping and choking in visible pain for upwards of 15 minutes.

Lethal injection drugs have been hard to come by in recent years as pharmaceutical companies become increasingly reluctant to be associated with executions.

Midazolam was introduced as a replacement for pentobarbital after its manufacturer banned its use in executions.

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