Arkansas carries out first of planned executions

Arkansas set off a legal battle when it announced plans to execute eight death row inmates, pictured here, in 11 days. Kenneth Williams, bottom row, third from the left, is slated to be executed Thursday

The US state of Arkansas carried out its first execution in nearly a decade, the state's attorney general said, proceeding despite criticism that its controversial plan to execute several prisoners by the end of the month was rushed.

Ledell Lee, 51, was put to death late Thursday night after the US Supreme Court rejected eleventh-hour requests to stay the execution. He received injections of three drugs, including one that has sparked sharp legal debate.

Another day of intense legal wrangling kept Lee alive until just before his death warrant expired at midnight. The nation's top court as well as a US district court issued temporary execution stays as they analyzed the case -- but ultimately all were lifted.

"Tonight the lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts through decades of challenges has been carried out," Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement released after the execution, the state's first since 2005.

Three more men are currently slated to die before the end of April. The state originally scheduled an unprecedented eight executions within an 11-day window, but several are now tied up in the courts.

The Arkansas governor has said the execution schedule is necessary, as the state's supply of a controversial sedative will expire at the end of the month.

Many of the legal clashes over Arkansas's plan focus on use of the drug midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs stop the heart.

Critics say it does not always adequately sedate prisoners, potentially causing undue suffering.