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An 11th Hour Execution: Ledell Lee Dies At 11:56pm

Corrections Department
Ledell Lee

With his death warrant set to expire at midnight, inmate Ledell Lee died at 11:56pm, as confirmed by the Corrections Department.  After another day of legal drama, the execution got underway shortly after word came that the U.S. Supreme Court would not take action to prevent the state from putting Lee to death via lethal injection.

Lee claimed that he was innocent in the February 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese during a robbery in her home.  Prosecutors said he beat Reese multiple times with a tire iron and had a previous history of brutal assaults on women.  Lee was 51 when he died Thursday night, the first of several planned executions.

The other executions are set for April 24 and April 27.

Here is a statement from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge: 

“Tonight the lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts through decades of challenges has been carried out. The family of the late Debra Reese, who was brutally murdered with a tire thumper after being targeted because she was home alone, has waited more than 24 years to see justice done. I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family.”

Facts of the case and procedural history:

Ledell Lee was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in Pulaski County in 1996. In February 1993, Lee strangled and beat Debra Reese with a tire thumper, resulting in her death. On the morning of the murder, Lee had been going door to door in Reese’s neighborhood asking to borrow tools. Lee, a serial kidnapper and rapist, targeted Reese after he discovered she was home alone. Reese was last heard from when she telephoned her mother to tell her about the encounter with Lee, which left her uneasy. Reese’s battered body was discovered in her bedroom later that same day. 

The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Lee’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal in 1997. Thereafter, Lee filed a petition for post-conviction relief that was denied by the circuit court, and the denial was affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court on appeal. Lee’s petition for post-conviction relief was reconsidered by the circuit court after a U.S. District Court judge found that Lee’s post-conviction counsel might have been impaired during the proceedings. Following a hearing on his amended petition for post-conviction relief, Lee was again denied relief by the circuit court, and the Arkansas Supreme Court again affirmed the denial on appeal. Lee also sought relief in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in federal court, and it was denied. Lee unsuccessfully tried to appeal the denial, first to the 8th Circuit Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lee filed an application for executive clemency citing separate conflicts of interest with counsel and the trial judge, reasonable doubt as to his guilt, an offer of a life sentence from the State and a change in societal acceptance of the death penalty as bases for relief. A clemency hearing was held on March 24, and Lee’s application was denied.

Ann Kenda joined Arkansas Public Media in January 2017 from Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and previously worked in public radio, commercial radio and newspaper in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She focuses on health, justice, education and energy as part of the Arkansas Public Media team. Her stories can be found on the airwaves, and social media.
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