Georgia inmate could be first to die since botched Oklahoma execution

ATLANTA Tue Jun 17, 2014 7:24pm EDT

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia inmate is scheduled to die by injection on Tuesday in what would be the first in the United States since a botched execution in Oklahoma in April ignited renewed debate and scrutiny of the death penalty.

The Georgia execution will be closely watched amid lingering questions about what went wrong during the flawed lethal injection this spring, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

"We're in a new climate," he said. "Everyone - the federal government, the president - is watching."

State and U.S. judges refused to halt the execution set for murderer Marcus Wellons at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) in Georgia but a federal judge on Tuesday approved the inmate's request for an anesthesiologist to witness it.

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.

In an appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, Wellons' attorneys cited the Oklahoma case to bolster their argument that Georgia had not provided enough detail about the state's execution protocol.

Oklahoma murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack about 30 minutes after prison officials halted his execution, having failed to properly administer the lethal injection.

A preliminary autopsy released by his lawyers last week showed the state did not properly insert an intravenous line to deliver lethal drugs to Lockett, bypassing strong veins in his arms and using a riskier entry point in the groin area.

The White House criticized the execution as being beyond humane standards.

Executions in several states have been stayed for various reasons since Lockett's death. But after Wellons' execution, authorities in Missouri and Florida are scheduled to execute inmates on Wednesday.

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday lifted a stay of execution for Missouri double murderer John Winfield, clearing the way for his execution early on Wednesday if last-minute appeals for a stay are denied.

Wellons is to be the first inmate executed in Georgia since the state's Supreme Court upheld a new law in May shielding the identity and methods of compounding pharmacies that make its lethal injection drugs.

Attorneys for the state said the execution protocol has not changed since 2012, when Georgia switched from a three-drug cocktail to a single drug, pentobarbital.

Oklahoma used a new three-drug cocktail for Lockett's execution.

Wellons previously sought a new trial on the grounds that his case was tainted when jurors gave erotic chocolate gag gifts to the judge and a bailiff. Appellate judges ruled the gifts were inappropriate but did not affect the proceedings.

On Monday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down the inmate's request for clemency.

Wellons would be the 21st person executed in the United States this year, Dieter said.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Missouri; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Beech)

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