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Inmate Jack Jones is shown in this booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Jones is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas, April 24, 2017. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS


By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas executed the first of two inmates scheduled to be put to death on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant a last-minute reprieve, state officials said.

Jack Jones, 52, was pronounced dead at 7:20 CDT (0020 GMT on Tuesday) at the Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles (120 km) southeast of the state capital, Little Rock.

Jones was convicted of raping and killing Mary Phillips, 34, in 1995 and trying to murder her 11-year-old daughter.

"I think justice was served tonight," J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Governor Asa Hutchinson, said in an interview on the NBC affiliate in Little Rock.

Officials were preparing to carry out the death sentence for Marcel Williams, 46, who had been tentatively scheduled to die at 8:15 p.m. CDT (0115 GMT on Tuesday) for the 1997 kidnapping, rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson.

The back-to-back executions would be the first time in 17 years that a U.S. state put two inmates to death on the same day.

The defendants filed a flurry of appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court and the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon. Williams' applications for a stay with both courts remained pending as of 7:30 p.m. CDT (0030 Tuesday).

Jones is the second inmate executed in Arkansas since 2005, after the state put Ledell Lee to death last week.

Jones and Williams were among eight inmates that Arkansas had initially planned to execute in 11 days this month, prompted by the impending expiration date of the state's supplies of midazolam, a sedative used as part of the three-drug protocol.

The drug was used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney. No problems were reported in Lee's execution on Thursday.

Four of the planned executions have been put on hold by court order, including two pending the outcome of a case heard on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court's four liberal justices appeared sympathetic to the argument by Alabama death row inmate James McWilliams that he is entitled to a mental health assessment from an independent medical expert before he can be executed.

Arkansas has scheduled a final execution for April on Thursday.

The compressed schedule generated a wave of criticism and legal challenges, including a lawsuit from the company that distributes one of the drugs. McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc, a unit of McKesson Corp, said the state obtained its supplies under false pretenses, but the state's Supreme Court threw out that lawsuit last week.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Trott)

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