THREE convicted killers are scheduled to die in the span of just 24 hours in the first executions in America since an Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack after a botched lethal injection seven weeks ago.
All three states planning lethal injections this week – Florida, Georgia and Missouri – refuse to say where they have obtained the drugs to be used and have also refused to say if they have been tested.
Lawyers for the three death-row inmates have challenged the secretive process used by some states to obtain lethal injection drugs from unnamed, relatively unregulated compounding pharmacies.
America’s states had to turn to them after several drug firms – many based in Europe – stopped selling drugs for use in lethal injections.
Nine executions in the US have been stayed or postponed since late April, when Clayton Lockett’s vein collapsed just as the lethal 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 about an hour 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.”
Marcus Wellons was set to be executed late last night in Georgia, followed six hours later by John Winfield, who faces execution in Missouri. John Ruthell Henry’s execution is scheduled for this evening 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 maintain all three killers deserve to die.
Wellons was convicted of 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 flat 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 India’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. She 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 and two of her friends.
Winfield shot all three women in the head. Arthea Sanders and Shawnee Murphy died. Donald survived but was blinded.
Symone Winfield, the daughter of Donald and John Winfield, is among those asking Governor Jay Nixon for clemency.
A federal judge granted a stay of execution last week on a claim that a prison worker dropped plans to write a letter in support of clemency due to intimidation from staff. That stay is under appeal.
In Florida, the state is moving ahead with the execution despite claims that John Ruthell Henry 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, to death a few days before Christmas 1985.
Hours later, he killed her five-year-old son, who was born 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 and the boy were killed.
Florida and Missouri trail only Texas as the most active death-penalty states. Florida has executed five men this year so far and Missouri four. Texas has carried out seven executions. Combined, the three states have performed 16 of the 20 executions in the US this year.
Wellons would be the first Georgia inmate executed since February 2013 and just the second since 2011.