HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Two men convicted in separate murder cases were put to death by lethal injection Tuesday 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 pronounced dead at 12:29 a.m. Willie Williams, 38, was executed about an hour and a half later.

The delay 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, also was changed between executions.

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

``I would like to thank my friends and family for sticking with me through all of this,'' Russell said in a brief final statement. ``I would like to encourage my brothers to continue to run the race. I thank my father in heaven for the grace that he's granted me.''

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.