Ann Kenda

Reporter

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, ArkansasPublicMedia.org and social media.

Corrections Department

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.

Update at 11:42pm:  The execution of Ledell Lee is underway, according to the Corrections Department. 

Update at 11:21pm: Signs are pointing to the Ledell Lee execution taking place before midnight, when his death warrant expires. 

Update at 10:30pm: Lee has lost all requests to the 8th Circuit Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court is now the focus. 

From previous reports:

Inmate Ledell Lee could become the first Arkansas prisoner put to death in twelve years as early as tonight.

The state Supreme Court has allowed the use of vecuronium bromide, the second of three drugs to be administered as part of a lethal injection cocktail.  On Wednesday, a judge had blocked the use of the drug.  The state then sought and received a fast reversal from the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Lee has been on death row for the beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese during a robbery in her home in February 1993 and was called a "super predator" by prosecutors for other alleged attacks on women.

After a dizzying day of legal drama, the execution of inmate Don Davis was called off with moments to spare.  Davis, who was taken to a "quiet room" and given his last meal, was not put to death by lethal injection after the US Supreme Court refused to lift a stay from a state court.  The state had made preparations for the execution while seeking an emergency decision from the nation's highest court.  Witnesses were in place when word came shortly before midnight that the justices had denied the request to vacate the stay via a simple, one-sentence decision.

Amhest College

There were a number of signs that the Arkansas executions were headed for a last-minute stay, according to an Amherst College professor who has studied and written extensively on the history of capital punishment in the United States.

“I don’t think it’s a surprising development,” said Sarat, who first spoke with Arkansas Public Media several weeks ago and then agreed to a follow-up interview following news of the stays.

Sarat said the decision may have hinged on the fast pace of the executions, which would have seen seven men put to death via lethal injection over a ten day period. An eighth inmate was granted a reprieve previously.

To the eight men scheduled to be executed over 10 days this month by the state of Arkansas, the question is when. When will they die? On the day and time of the state's choosing — April 17, 20, 24 and 27 — or some later date, dependent on a court-ordered stay of their execution? For others without more than a passing interest in the news, the question might be why, followed by how.

How does the state end the life of an inmate, without pain but without error?

In Arkansas's case, the answer, for better or worse, is lethal injection. 

Grove Pashley

Next month the state of Arkansas will execute eight of its 33 inmates, in pairs over four evenings and by lethal injection.

For more than 18 years Damien Echols was one of those on death row. He knows all eight men and says Don W. Davis, scheduled to die April 17, "kept me alive." 

Here's his full Arkansas Public Media interview with reporter Ann Kenda in which he talks about the justice of capital punishment, life on death row, life after death row and his wife, Lorri, whom he married while on the block. 

Echols was reached at his home in New York. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

The same week that federal Republicans unveiled a proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ARKids First program which they say sent the state’s uninsured rates for children plummeting from 25 percent to less than five percent.

ARKids First offers a Medicaid option for kids from low-income families as well as a second option for kids from moderate-income families.  Two parents with two kids on a household income of less than $51,273 would be eligible for ARKids B, while a single parent with one child and an income of less than $22,748 would be eligible for the Medicaid option.  The program is not often referred to as Medicaid but simply as ARKids First.

Ann Kenda

The bad-boy of Enrico Fermi High School is less than welcome when he unexpectedly returns to school as a revenant zombie in Arkansas State University Theater’s production of Zombie Prom, which opens on Friday in the Drama Theatre at the Fowler Center.  After all, Rule Number 7, Subsection 9 of the Handbook of Student Life clearly states “no zombies,” according to the school’s principal, Miss Strict.

Still, Zombie Jonny, who died three weeks earlier when he flung himself into the cooling tower of the Francis Gary Powers nuclear plant in a fit of teenage heartbreak, is determined to graduate and win back the heart of good-girl Toffee and take her to the prom.

“I have to go back behind stage and I have a whole amazing crew that helps me get the makeup on and prepare for that, and it all has to happen in less than 10 minutes, so it’s going to be awesome to see it on stage,” said theater major Zac Passmore, who plays Jonny.  He was attracted to the role of the only actual zombie in the story because of its lead vocals — Zombie Prom is, of course, a musical — and the challenges of playing a larger-than-life character authentically.

Clayton Hotze

There are many lessons to be learned from one of the most infamous tweets in social media history.

“It was like misogyny, within the warm glow of self-righteousness,” said Welch author and filmmaker Jon Ronson.

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

Sales tax on soda will go up from 1.5% to 6.5% in Arkansas next year, under a bill signed by Gov. Hutchinson that aims to raise millions for military retiree tax cuts.  The increase is coupled with a tax reduction on the wholesale price for the syrup used by beverage makers, which has advocates for the poor complaining that the higher tax will be paid only by consumers.

The increase comes at a time when soda has largely fallen out of favor with consumers, as they seek healthier alternatives.  PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) spent its advertising dollars this year on a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl promoting its new LIFEWTR premium bottled water instead of its traditional cola drinks.

Johnathan Reeves / KASU

About thirty people attended a meeting at the Jonesboro Public Library’s Round Room Wednesday evening to discuss the issues and challenges facing the gay and transgender populations in Arkansas under the new Trump administration.

“So we really do see that the transgender community is very marginalized.  We see that within health care.  We see that within protections,” said James Rector, field organizer with the Human Rights Campaign of Arkansas.

Ann Kenda/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Cookies, cake, potato chips, ice cream, soda and even energy drinks — these are some of the foods and beverages deemed to cause obesity, cavities and other health problems and thus would not be eligible for purchase with food stamps, under a "junk food" bill wending its way through the General Assembly.

Monday, it passed out of the House by a vote of 55-39.

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