Convicted killers in three US states were facing executions within a 24-hour period starting Tuesday night, potentially the first lethal injections in the country since a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma intensified America's debate over the death penalty nearly two months ago.
All the states planning lethal injections — Florida, Georgia and Missouri — refuse to say where they get their drugs, or if they are tested. Lawyers for two of the condemned inmates have challenged the secretive process used by some states to obtain lethal injection drugs from unidentified, loosely regulated compounding pharmacies.
Several states have turned to U.S. sources for execution drugs since European companies opposed to capital punishment cut off supplies of certain execution drugs.
Nine executions in the U.S. 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."
Late Tuesday night, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a last-minute reprieve to Georgia inmate Marcus Wellons, and the state planned to move forward with his execution. It had been scheduled for earlier in the evening but was delayed while the appeal was pending. In Missouri, John Winfield faces execution at 12:01 a.m. CDT. John Ruthell Henry's execution is scheduled Wednesday night 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.
The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday denied clemency to Wellons, leaving his fate in the hands of the courts.
In Missouri, Winfield had been dating Carmelita Donald 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 and confronted her, along with two 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 Gov. 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. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the stay Tuesday, and attorneys for Winfield appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is also considering Winfield's argument that Missouri's lethal injection drug, obtained from an unnamed source with no acknowledgement of how it is tested, poses a risk of pain and suffering for the inmate. Wellons had challenged the secretive process used by Georgia to obtain lethal injection drugs from unidentified, loosely regulated compounding pharmacies.
In Florida, the state is moving ahead with the execution despite claims that 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 Henry, to death a few days before Christmas in 1985. Hours later, he killed her 5-year-old son from a previous relationship.
Florida and Missouri trail only Texas as the most active death penalty states. Texas has carried out seven executions. Florida has executed five men in 2014 and Missouri has executed four. Combined, the three states have performed 16 of the 20 executions this year.