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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) – Arkansas executed its first inmate in 12 years on Thursday after a protracted legal battle that questioned aspects of the use of the death penalty in the United States, which fell to a quarter-century low in 2016.
Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT (0456 GMT Friday) at the state’s death chamber in its Cummins Unit prison, a Department of Corrections spokesman said. Lee did not make a final statement.
Lee was convicted and sentenced to death for beating Debra Reese to death with a tire iron in 1993. Reese’s relatives were at the Cummins Unit and told media Lee deserved to die for a crime that ripped their lives apart.
Lawyers for Lee, who had spent more than 20 years on death row, had filed numerous motions in various courts ahead of the lethal injection that had put the process on hold.
Lee had maintained his innocence for years and was seeking DNA tests his lawyers said could prove his innocence.
He was the first person in a group of what had been eight men Arkansas originally planned to execute in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.