KETR

Arkansas Carries Out First Execution Since 2005

Apr 21, 2017
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The state of Arkansas had not executed a man in 12 years until last night. Bobby Ampezzan of Arkansas Public Media was at the correctional facility in Grady, Ark., as Ledell Lee was pronounced dead.

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BOBBY AMPEZZAN, BYLINE: When the call finally came, correction department spokesman Solomon Graves was ready.

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SOLOMON GRAVES: A lethal injection was administered at 11:44 p.m. And the coroner pronounced Ledell Lee dead at 11:56 p.m. this 20th day of April.

AMPEZZAN: Lee was 51, had spent more than two decades on death row for the brutal beating death of Debra Reese. He had no last words. Lee was one of eight inmates the state planned to execute this week and next but the court stayed three of those executions pending new tests and evaluations. J.R. Davis is Governor Asa Hutchinson's spokesman.

J.R. DAVIS: I think that's the frustrating part. When a sentence handed down, I think the people of Arkansas expect it to be carried out. And I think when you run into blockades to justice, as I believe the 28 elected prosecutors said today in a letter, that is frustrating for Arkansans and they lose faith in the justice system.

AMPEZZAN: Recent court proceedings haven't just questioned the cases but the state's own method of execution. McKesson Corporation is the supplier of one of the state's lethal drugs used on Lee and it tried to stop the executions in court. It was unsuccessful. But the night's execution was a success for state officials and the prison system. Here's Davis again.

DAVIS: It's a moment of reflection. But at the end of the night, the right thing was done. And the ADC staff - they carried out their responsibilities extremely well.

AMPEZZAN: Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy witnessed a botched execution three years ago in Oklahoma. He was there to witness this one, too. The method was the exact same in both but this one wasn't like that one.

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SEAN MURPHY: The inmate appeared to lose consciousness very quickly, didn't - I mean, within a matter of minutes his eyes closed. And, I mean, I could tell that his chest was moving slightly, appeared to still be breathing for the first few minutes. And then at the consciousness check, he didn't show any signs of consciousness.

AMPEZZAN: Meanwhile, outside of the governor's mansion in Little Rock, a small protest earlier in the evening gave way to a vigil. Sandra Cone was there.

SANDRA CONE: For me, as a Christian, when I heard that his last meal he requested communion, that just broke my heart.

AMPEZZAN: For NPR News, I'm Bobby Ampezzan, Arkansas Public Media.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEPTEMBER MALEVOLENCE'S "BLIZZARD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.