Jimmy Lee Gray was executed in the gas chamber at Parchman prison shortly after 1 a.m. EDT today for the murder of a 3-year-old girl who came to his apartment to play with his kittens.

Gray, 34, yesterday lost his last chance to avoid execution when the U.S. Supreme Court refused for the third time to hear his appeal.

He became the eighth man executed in the United States since the Supreme Court lifted the death-penalty ban in 1977 and the first in Mississippi since 1964.

Prison officials said Gray ate a last meal of pizza, Mexican food and strawberries with a clergyman who gave him communion. They said he also talked by telephone with his parents.

"It's time for Jimmy Lee Gray to pay his debt to society. He's had a lot more opportunities than that 3-year-old girl had," said Jackson County Sheriff John Ledbetter, who came to the prison from Pascagoula, where Gray was convicted.

Gray was sentenced to die for the 1976 slaying of Deressa Jean Scales, 3, of Pascagoula. He confessed to sodomizing the child and holding her head in a drainage ditch until she strangled on mud.

At the time, he was on parole after serving seven years of a 20-year sentence for killing his girlfriend, 16, in Parker, Ariz. graphics/photo: Jimmy Lee Gray sits in his Mississippi State Penitentiary cell. UPI