HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A man convicted of murdering an air traffic controller was executed by lethal injection today _ the first of two men scheduled to die in Texas' first multiple execution in 44 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals Monday for both men.

Since the high court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976, only Arkansas has carried out more than one execution on the same day, putting to death two killers on May 11 and three on Aug. 3.

In Texas, 33-year-old Clifton Russell was executed first today. Willie Williams, 38, was scheduled to be executed about an hour later.

Prosecutors said it was mere coincidence that the two were to die on the same day. Execution dates are set by judges.

The hour between executions was to give officials time to replace needles and tubes used to administer the injection. The sheet on the death chamber gurney, which is bolted to the floor, was to be changed between executions.

Russell was convicted of killing Hubert Tobey, 41, an air traffic controller, in Abilene in 1979. Tobey was kidnapped from a gas station and found dead outside an abandoned house with his throat cut, his skull crushed and his car missing.

Williams was convicted of the 1980 shooting of Claude Schaffer Jr., an employee at a convenience store. Schaffer was shot in the back while squatting behind the counter. Williams confessed to the slaying.

Before Tuesday, Texas had carried out 87 of the 261 executions in the United States since capital punishment resumed in 1976 _ far more than any other state.