AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Texas executed a convicted murderer on Tuesday and Missouri plans to put a man to death early Wednesday for killing a mother and children at a time when the number of executions in the United States is on pace to be the lowest in two decades.
Miguel Paredes died by lethal injection at the Texas death chamber in Huntsville. He was convicted with two co-defendants of killing three people in 2000. The co-defendants received life sentences.
In Missouri, an execution scheduled for early on Wednesday morning was halted hours before by the U.S. Supreme Court while it decides whether to hear an appeal.
Mark Christeson, 35, is scheduled to die by lethal injection in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday. He was convicted of killing a woman and her two children in 1998.
The number of executions is likely to total about 35 in the United States this year, which would be the lowest since 31 inmates were put to death in 1994, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment.
There were 39 executions in the United States last year.
Difficulties with carrying out the death penalty and the high cost of prosecutions have helped drive the numbers lower in recent years, analysts have said.
Problems with executions in Oklahoma, Arizona and other states this year forced officials to review new combinations of lethal injection drugs and caused lawyers representing death row inmates to question whether the new mixes violate U.S. constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
"The states still have real problems up ahead with lethal injections. The drugs simply are hard to get, and the sources are mysterious, which always raises concern in the courts," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Oklahoma has delayed until 2015 three executions planned for this year to implement new death penalty protocols following errors in an April execution.
The yearly number of executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 peaked at 98 in 1999.
Paredes and two co-defendants were convicted of fatally shooting rival gang members Adrian Torres, Nelly Bravo and Shawn Cain. The victims' bodies were rolled in a carpet, taken to a remote area outside San Antonio and set on fire, the Texas Attorney General's Office said.
"To the victim's family, I want you to know that I hope you let go of all of the hate because of all my actions. I came in as a lion and I come as peaceful as a lamb. I'm at peace," Paredes said in his last statement, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Christeson was convicted of killing Susan Brouk, her 9-year-old son and her 12-year-old daughter in 1998 near her home in southern Missouri.
Christeson and his cousin broke into the home and raped Brouk, according to court documents. They then took the Brouks to a pond where Christeson cut the throats of the mother and son and threw them into the water. They suffocated the daughter and threw her into the pond.
Christeson's attorneys argued in an appeal to the Supreme Court on Monday that his court-appointed attorneys had abandoned him and failed to meet deadlines for appeals.
Seventeen former judges have filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting a stay of execution based on problems with Christeson's court-appointed attorneys.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Peter Cooney, Ken Wills