Arkansas has carried out its first execution since 2005, just four minutes before the inmate's death warrant was set to expire.
Ledell Lee's execution was scheduled for 7 p.m., but an evening of appeals kept him alive longer. The U.S. Supreme Court nearly halted his execution at one point in the evening but ultimately decided, 5 to 4, that the state could proceed.
"A lethal injection was administered at 11:44 p.m. and the coroner pronounced Ledell Lee dead at 11:56 p.m.," announced Soloman Graves, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction.
There were court battles over whether one of the drugs was obtained illegally and whether another drug, midazolam, adequately keeps inmates unconscious during the procedure. Ultimately, those proved unsuccessful.
Sean Murphy of the Associated Press, who witnessed a botched execution with midazolam in Oklahoma, said the inmate appeared to lose consciousness quickly.
"Within a matter of minutes, his eyes closed. I could tell that his chest was moving slightly. He appeared to still be breathing for the first few minutes and then at the consciousness check he didn't show any signs of consciousness," said Murphy.
A spokesman for the governor, J.R. Davis, praised the Department of Correction for carrying out its responsibilities. He said when a sentence is handed down, the people of Arkansas expect it to be carried out. Otherwise, he said, they will lose faith in the justice system.
"The governor knows this is the most grave responsibility he'll ever have and he takes that very seriously. It's a moment of reflection, but at the end of the night the right thing was done," said Davis.
Ledell Lee, 51, was convicted of murdering Debra Reese in 1993. Lee is one of eight prisoners the state planned to execute before the end of the month, but four have dropped off the list because of various court rulings.
Two prisoners are scheduled to die Monday, April 24, and one on April 27.