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Arkansas begins 'run' of executions

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Arkansas has carried out its first execution since 2005 - the first of eight which the state had originally planned to carry out by lethal injection over a period of 11 days.

Ledell Lee was pronounced dead at 11.56pm local time on Thursday, four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.

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

The execution process took two minutes, during which Lee lay covered with a sheet, with his arms extended and his head and hands covered with leather straps.

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He made no final statement and is reported to have shown no apparent signs of suffering during the execution.

A spokesman for Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who scheduled the multiple executions, said: "Justice was carried out."

The 51-year-old was put on death row for the 1993 murder of his neighbour Debra Reese, who Lee struck 36 times with a wheel wrench her husband gave her for protection.

He was arrested less than half-an-hour after she was killed, spending money he had stolen from her. He always claimed his innocence.

The eight men due to be executed
Image: Six of the eight men initially due to be executed

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.

However, last-minute court challenges have derailed three other executions scheduled for this week.

An earlier order halting the use of vercuronium bromide - one of the three drugs used in the state's lethal injection process - was overturned by the court.

Protesters have demonstrated outside the home of Gov Asa Hutchinson, who sanctioned the executions
Image: Governor Asa Hutchinson sanctioned the executions

Drug company McKesson Medical Surgical Inc said the drug had been sold to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

The makers of the other two drugs being used in the process - midazolam and potassium chloride - were blocked from intervening in the case.

Two more inmates are set to die on Monday, and one on 27 April. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay.

Arkansas dropped plans to execute a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, on the same day. He will now be seeking more DNA tests in the hope of proving his innocence.

The death penalty was reinstated in America in 1976.

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