ST. LOUIS — With Florida carrying out the nation’s third execution in less than 24 hours, some death penalty states — particularly in the South — appear unfazed by the recent furor over how the U.S. performs lethal injections.
A botched execution seven weeks ago in Oklahoma amplified a national debate about the secretive ways many states obtain lethal injection drugs from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies. Before Tuesday, nine executions were stayed or delayed — albeit some for reasons not related to the drug question.
Amid the court battles, many pro-death penalty states kept pushing to resume executions, including the three carried out during the quick burst this week. Georgia and Missouri executed prisoners around an hour apart late Tuesday and early Wednesday, and John Ruthell Henry was pronounced dead at 7:43 p.m. EDT Wednesday after receiving a lethal injection in Florida.
Austin Sarat, professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, said there has been a regional divide when it comes to how quickly states are returning to the business of putting prisoners to death.
“I think what you’re going to see is kind of a division where some areas, some states, predominantly in the South, are going to dig in their heels,” Sarat said. “Other states are going to proceed more cautiously and impose, if not an official moratorium, more of a de facto moratorium until things get sorted out.”
The executions in Georgia and Missouri were the first since April 29, when Oklahoma prison officials halted the process because drugs weren’t being administered properly into the veins of inmate Clayton Lockett. He died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the process began.
Lawyers for death row inmates have cited concerns that what happened in Oklahoma could be repeated, and they’ve challenged the secretive ways many states obtain lethal injection drugs from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies.
There appeared to be no noticeable glitches in the Georgia, Missouri or Florida lethal injections. Marcus Wellons, 59, was put to death in Georgia for the 1989 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. In Missouri, John Winfield, 46, was executed for killing two women in St. Louis County in 1996.
Henry, 63, was convicted of killing his estranged wife and her son in 1985.
Four states are responsible for 21 of the 23 executions so far this year: Texas with seven, Florida with six, Missouri with five and Oklahoma with three. Georgia and Ohio have each performed one.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that opposes executions and tracks the issue, said that while 32 states still have the death penalty on the books, the number of states actually performing executions has dropped sharply. Pennsylvania, for example, still has the death penalty but hasn’t executed anyone since 1999. Utah has had one execution since 2000. Maryland and Washington had two in that same span.
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