Convicted Arkansas killer chooses a surprising last meal before his execution

Convicted Arkansas killer chooses a surprising last meal before his execution
Arkansas death row inmate Ledell Lee declined his last meal Thursday, choosing instead to receive Communion before his execution. The state had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days before one of the drugs, used for lethal injections, expires. (Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

Ledell Lee, the first inmate to be executed in Arkansas since 2005, declined a traditional last meal Thursday night, choosing instead to receive Communion, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Corrections said.

The 51-year-old convicted killer was administered the lethal injection at 11:44 p.m. local time and was pronounced dead 12 minutes later, according to The Associated Press.

Lee was put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbor Debra Reese, whom he struck 36 times with a tire iron her husband had given her for self defense. Lee was arrested less than an hour after the killing, when he was found spending the $300 he had stolen from Reese.

While Lee has maintained his innocence, the jury convicted him in 1995, and the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 1997.

The inmate’s execution was supposed to be one in a line of eight prisoners to be executed over an 11-day period, which would be the most conducted by any state in such a compressed window of time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The executions were scheduled to begin April 17 and run through the end of the month, when one of the drugs used for lethal injections, Midazolam, expires.

Two more inmates are scheduled to die Monday, and one on April 27. Four other men on death row have received stays for various reasons.

The three-drug cocktail used for executions in Arkansas includes Midazolam, which renders the subject unconscious, though it does not necessarily relieve any pain; vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmates; and potassium chloride, which brings on cardiac arrest and stops the heart from beating.

“Unless the prisoner is unconscious, then drugs two and three will cause pain — torturous punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and state guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment,” attorney Jeffrey Rosenzweig, who is representing three of the inmates, said in a statement.

Ahead of Lee’s execution, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a restraining order on the use of vecuronium bromide after the supplier, McKesson Medical Surgical, Inc., argued in court that its drug wasn’t supposed to be used for capital punishment.

The drug company claimed it was “misled” by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. McKesson said its drugs are intended for medical uses only, not 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.

The company asked the state to return 10 vials of the drug. In response, Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the state from using the drug in question for executions.

The Arkansas attorney general’s office pushed back against the restraining order. “As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case. Attorney General [Leslie] Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible.”

Shortly after the restraining order was put in place, the state’s high court vacated it.

Arkansas’ elected prosecutors have expressed frustration over the legal maneuvers that have halted several of the planned executions.

“Through the manipulation of the judicial system, these men continue to torment the victims’ families in seeking, by any means, to avoid their just punishment,” the prosecutors said in a joint statement, the AP reported.

Lawyers for the state have expressed similar annoyance, suggesting the inmates are filing court papers just to run down the clock on Arkansas’ soon-expiring supply of Midazolam.