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Georgia execution 1st since botched injection

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 7:56 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 8:24 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Georgia inmate convicted of rape and murder has been put to death in the nation's first capital punishment since a botched execution in April raised new concerns about lethal injection.

Marcus Wellons, 59, was executed late Tuesday night at a prison in Jackson after last-minute appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court were denied. Wellons' execution came about an hour before that of inmate John Winfield, who was convicted of killing two women, early Wednesday in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Neither execution had any noticeable complications. Another execution, the third in a 24-hour span, is scheduled for Wednesday night in Florida.

Nine executions nationwide have been stayed or postponed since late April, when Oklahoma prison officials halted the execution of Clayton Lockett after noting that the lethal injection drugs weren't being administered into his vein properly. Lockett's punishment was halted and he died of a heart attack several minutes later.

"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."

Georgia, Missouri and Florida all refuse to say where they get their drugs, or if they are tested. Lawyers for Wellons and Winfield had challenged the secretive process used by some states to obtain lethal injection drugs from unidentified, loosely regulated compounding pharmacies.

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.

In the Georgia execution, Wellons was lying still with his eyes closed while the drugs were administered. A few minutes into the procedure, he took a couple of heavy breaths and blew air out through his lips as if snoring, but by about five minutes in, there was no visible movement.

It wasn't immediately clear exactly when the drugs administered, but typically it is within a minute or two after the warden leaves the room. The warden left the room at 11:32 p.m., 24 minutes before Wellons was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Eastern time.

Winfield was executed by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. and was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m. Central time, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety said. The U.S. Supreme Court had also refused late Tuesday to halt his execution, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency.

Winfield, 46, took four or five deep breaths as the drug was injected, puffed his cheeks twice and then fell silent, all in a matter of a few seconds.

The execution of John Ruthell Henry, who was convicted of killing his estranged wife and her son, is scheduled for Wednesday night in Florida.

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 neighbor in suburban Atlanta.

Before the execution began, Wellons said he hoped his death could give Roberts' family peace.

"I'd like to apologize to the Roberts family for my crimes and ask for forgiveness," Wellons said.

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 hers.

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

Winfield declined to make a statement Wednesday.

In Florida, the state is moving ahead with the planned execution despite claims that Henry, 63, 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 5-year-old 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.

Asked Tuesday if he had discussed with the Department of Corrections what happened in Oklahoma and if any changes were needed in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said, "I focus on making sure that we do things the right way here."

Florida and Missouri trail only Texas as the most active death penalty states. Texas has carried out seven executions this year. Florida has executed five men, and Missouri has executed five.

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