U.S. appeals court lifts stay of Missouri execution set for Wednesday

Tue Jun 17, 2014 7:39pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday overturned a stay of execution for a Missouri murderer, clearing the way for the state to proceed with plans to lethally inject the inmate on Wednesday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated a stay of execution for John Winfield, 43, who was sentenced to die for the 1996 murders of two friends of his ex-girlfriend.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry of St. Louis had issued the stay and a preliminary injunction on June 12 based on allegations by Winfield's attorneys that state corrections officials intimidated and threatened a prison employee who was supportive of an application by Winfield for clemency.

A panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the stay on Monday, but the state appealed and received the favorable ruling after a rehearing.

Winfield's attorneys are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they already had raised objections to the state's lethal injection practices.

"We are disappointed by the court's ruling but we have already filed our pleadings in the U.S. Supreme Court, and we are confident that Mr. Winfield’s stay will be reinstated," said attorney Joseph Luby.Winfield is set to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. (0501 GMT) on Wednesday. His scheduled execution comes as a spotlight is on lethal injection methods now after a botched execution in Oklahoma on April 29. Oklahoma officials called off that execution when the lethal injection process went wrong, and inmate Clayton Lockett then died of a heart attack. In Winfield’s case, his lawyers have argued in court filings that the state's secrecy about where it gets its lethal injection drugs and how they are made are also grounds for a stay. Winfield was sentenced to die in 1998 after convictions on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, and four counts of armed criminal action after he went on a rampage in September 1996, attacking an ex-girlfriend leaving her blind and disfigured, killing two of her friends, and trying to kill another.

A Georgia inmate was also scheduled to die by injection on Tuesday. Marcus Wellons, 58, was sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and strangulation of his 15-year-old neighbor, India Roberts, whom he abducted as she walked to a school bus stop.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Bill Trott)

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