April 20 (UPI) -- After the U.S. Supreme Court denied last-minute requests for a stay, Ledell Lee was put to death late Thursday night by lethal injection in Arkansas' first execution since 2005.
Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire.
"The family of the late Debra Reese, who was brutally murdered with a tire thumper after being targeted because she was home alone, has waited more than 24 years to see justice done," Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. "I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family."
Lee was the first to die among eight Arkansas inmates scheduled for execution this month. Three of the executions so far have been stayed by legal challenges. Three others are scheduled for next week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended the unprecedented schedule because the state's supply of one of the lethal drugs expires at the end of April.
Amnesty International called on Arkansas to halt the "conveyor belt of executions."
"Today is a shameful day for Arkansas, which is callously rushing the judicial process by treating human beings as though they have a sell-by date," the organization said in a statement. "This assembly line of executions must stop, and this cruel and inhuman punishment should be ended once and for all."
The Arkansas Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee's execution earlier Thursday, overturning an injunction that blocked the use of a lethal injection drug. On Wednesday, an Arkansas circuit court had barred the use of paralytic vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs in the lethal injection cocktail.
Lee and Stacey E. Johnson both were originally scheduled for execution Thursday. Johnson's execution was stayed on Wednesday by the state high court.
Lee's execution was delayed for several hours Thursday night as he pursued multiple appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court finally denied all of his motions for emergency stays, allowing the execution to proceed.
"His last meal request was that he receive communion, and he was given communion this afternoon," Department of Correction Spokesman Solomon Graves told reporters.
Lee was sentenced to die in October 1995 for the killing two years earlier of 26-year-old Debra Reese. Lee denied involvement in the murder and sought use of new DNA technology.
He was the first Arkansas inmate put to death since Eric Nance in 2005.