Inmates in three US states first to be put to death since botched execution raised concerns

Lethal injections in Florida, Missouri and Georgia first scheduled since a botched one in Oklahoma raised new concerns about the procedures

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 11:16pm


The first US executions in the seven weeks since an Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack following a botched lethal injection were scheduled to take place last night and today amid intense scrutiny.

All three states that planned lethal injections this week - Florida, Georgia and Missouri - refused to say where they get their drugs or if they are tested. Lawyers for the condemned inmates have challenged the secretive process used by some states to obtain lethal injection drugs from unnamed, loosely regulated compounding pharmacies. States had to turn to these pharmacies after several drug makers - many based in Europe - stopped selling drugs for use in lethal injections.

Nine executions nationwide have been stayed or postponed since late April, when Clayton Lockett's vein collapsed just as the drug began flowing into his arm in Oklahoma's death chamber. Lockett's punishment was halted, but despite efforts to save him, he died of a heart attack.

"I think after Clayton Lockett's execution everyone is going to be watching very closely," Fordham University School of Law professor Deborah Denno, a death penalty expert, said of this week's executions. "The scrutiny is going to be even closer."

Marcus Wellons was set to die last night in Georgia, followed six hours later by John Winfield, who faced execution in Missouri. John Ruthell Henry's execution was scheduled for 6pm local time today in Florida.

Georgia and Missouri both use the single drug pentobarbital, a sedative. Florida uses a three-drug combination of midazolam hydrochloride, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Despite concerns about the drugs and how they are obtained, death penalty supporters say all three convicted killers are getting what they deserve.

Wellons was convicted in the 1989 rape and murder of India Roberts, his 15-year-old neighbour in suburban Atlanta. Soon after the girl left for school, another neighbour heard muffled screams from the apartment where Wellons was living. Later that day, a man told police he saw a man carrying what appeared to be a body in a sheet. Police found the girl's body in a wooded area. She had been strangled and raped.

In Missouri, Winfield had been dating Carmelita Donald on and off for several years and fathered two of her children. Donald began dating another man. One night in 1996, in a jealous rage, Winfield showed up outside Donald's apartment in St. Louis County and confronted her, along with two friends of Donald.

Winfield shot all three women in the head. Arthea Sanders and Shawnee Murphy died in the attack. Donald survived but was blinded.

After [a botched] execution everyone is going to be watching very closely

In Florida, the state was moving ahead with Henry's execution despite claims he is mentally ill and intellectually disabled. The state claims anyone with an IQ of at least 70 is not mentally disabled; testing has shown Henry's IQ at 78, though his lawyers say it should be re-evaluated.

Henry stabbed his estranged wife, Suzanne Henry, to death a few days before Christmas in 1985. Hours later, he killed her young son from a previous relationship. Henry had previously pleaded no contest to second-degree murder for fatally stabbing his common-law wife, Patricia Roddy, in 1976, and was on parole when Suzanne Henry and the boy were killed.

Florida has executed five men this year and Missouri four. Texas has carried out seven executions. Combined, the three states have performed 16 of the 20 executions held in the US this year.