Ledell Lee, convicted in 1993 of murdering his neighbour Debra Reese, was executed via lethal injection on Thursday, 20 April, according to the BBC. Lee maintained his innocence until his death, and had been on death row for over twenty years.
In a statement, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said, ‘The family of the late Debra Reese…has waited more than 24 years to see justice done. I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family.’
In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Lee said, ‘It’s more or less like I’m living in the twilight zone. It’s like one of those types of nightmares that you cannot wake up from…I am an innocent man.’
Though the state of Arkansas maintains that Lee was brought to justice, others disagree. The Innocence Project argued that Arkansas rushed Lee’s execution due to a supply of lethal injection drugs expiring at the end of the month.
‘Arkansas’s decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee…denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence…no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent,’ they said in a statement.
Amnesty International referred to the decision as a ‘shameful day for [Arkansas]’ and noted that Lee had appealed multiple times for DNA testing that may have exonerated him, but all of those appeals were denied.
Over forty protestors carrying candles and holding signs reading ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ and ‘End the Death Penalty’ gathered outside the mansion of Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, according to a tweet shared by WPTV breaking news anchor Chris Stewart.
Other prisoners on death row in Arkansas, including Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Don Davis, and Stacey Johnson, have had their executions delayed in a ‘late-night flurry’ of legal action, according to the Guardian. Three more executions remain scheduled to occur.
A press release from Hutchinson stated that his ‘heart goes out to [the victims’ families] as they once again deal with the continued court review…I expect both the Supreme Court of Arkansas and the 8th circuit court of Appeals to review the decisions quickly’ so that planned executions can occur on schedule.
There are thirty-one states in the US where the death penalty is still legal, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.