Arkansas carries out its first execution in more than a decade

Ledell Lee, who maintained his innocence until his death, was executed by lethal injection

Just thirty minutes before his death warrant was due to expire, death row inmate 51-year-old Ledell Lee has been executed by the state of Arkansas in the US. Lee was convicted of beating a woman to death in 1993. Video: REUTERS

 

Arkansas has carried out its first execution in more than a decade after the US supreme court struck down a last-minute appeal by lawyers representing prisoner Ledell Lee.

Lee, who maintained his innocence until his death, was executed shortly before midnight on Thursday by lethal injection.

The state of Arkansas had planned to carry out four executions this week, part of a wave of executions scheduled before the end of the month when its stock of a sedative used in the process reaches expiry.

Lee (51) was convicted of the brutal murder of a 26-year-old woman, Debra Reese, in her home in 1993.

A stay was placed on the planned execution of another prisoner, Stacey Johnson, on Thursday, to allow DNA testing to take place. Three other men are scheduled to be executed next week.

The supreme court’s move to allow the execution to go ahead marks the first major decision by recently-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch, who sided with four colleagues to ensure the 5-4 ruling.

Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun whose book Dead Man Walking generated a film about the death penalty, was among the campaigners who criticised the move, tweeting: “Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”

Healthcare deal

Separately, as congress prepared to return to session in Washington next week following the Easter break, the Trump administration was making a renewed push to secure support for a Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, the healthcare plan introduced by his predecessor Barack Obama.

With the president’s 100-day mark fast approaching, the administration is keen to secure a number of achievements, including agreement on a new healthcare plan, after a proposal was pulled before a vote last month after failing to secure enough support among Republicans.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump expressed confidence that a deal was in the offing. “We’re doing very well on healthcare. We’ll see what happens, but this is a great Bill,” he said. “I’d like to say next week, but I believe we will get it and whether it’s next week or shortly thereafter.”

A revised proposal is due to be circulated to members of the house in the coming days.

The issue is linked to a possible government shutdown next weekend, with congress due to pass a spending package before April 28th, when funding for several federal spending programmes expires.

Military strikes

As vice-president Mike Pence continued his 10-day tour of Asia and Australia, defence secretary James Mattis was in Tel Aviv, where he said there was “no doubt” that the Syrian government still retained chemical weapons, in breach of a 2013 agreement.

“The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some [chemical weapons]. It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically,” he said.

The US took the world by surprise by launching a military strike against an airfield controlled by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad earlier this month.

Although the Trump administration has hardened its stance against Syria and Iran in recent weeks, the US president has indicated that he would not commit to further involvement in Libya.  

Following talks with Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump said: “I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles. We are in a role everywhere.”