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Florida execution is third in US in 24 hours

The Wednesday execution in Florida follows lethal injections in Georgia and Missouri.
The death chamber. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty)
The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

A Florida man has become the third inmate to be put to death in the United States in less than 24 hours, after a seven-week quiet period that followed a botched execution in Oklahoma.

John Henry, 63, was put to death Wednesday at approximately 7:43 p.m. by lethal injection. Inmates Marcus Wellons in Georgia and John Winfield in Missouri were executed on Tuesday.

Henry was convicted of killing of his wife, Suzanne, and her son in 1985. He served prison time for killing his previous wife in 1976 but was paroled in 1983.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal from Henry late Tuesday.

Capital punishment had effectively ceased in the U.S. since April 29, when the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma stretched on for 43 minutes and Lockett was reported to have writhed in pain before dying of a heart attack. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a review of the state's execution procedures and the events of that night. The state attorney general agreed to stay all executions in the state until after a review is complete.

After Lockett’s death, President Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review federal death penalty standards. A think tank panel in May released a report with dozens of recommendations for reforming the U.S. capital punishment system.

Florida’s execution procedures have been under scrutiny since the state began using a new three-drug cocktail to carry out lethal injections in October. It is the first state to use the sedative Midazolam in its drug cocktail. William Happ, who in 2013 was the first inmate to be executed using this combination, “remained conscious longer and made more body movements after losing consciousness,” than those put to death using Florida’s old method, the AP reported.

Since many pharmaceutical companies have stopped providing drugs to be used in executions, states have turned to so-called compounding pharmacies to custom mix dosages of lethal drugs. Compounding pharmacies are not subject to the same regulations as other drug manufacturers, which increases the risks of contamination or other complications.

Besides questionable regulation, many states have turned to new combinations using drugs that have not been approved for use in animals. While a one drug execution is considered more humane, now that that is not possible all the time, states like Florida are getting creative.

Defense attorneys, civil liberties advocates, and human rights advocates have argued that keeping drug details and sources a secret violates the constitution, but so far courts have not responded to the argument.

In Georgia, Wellons, who was convicted in 1989 of raping and murdering an Atlanta-area teenager, was initially scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m., but last-minute appeals kept things from beginning until 10:41. Five minutes after Wellons was pronounced dead, Winfield, who was convicted of blinding an ex-girlfriend and killing two other women in 1996, was put to death in Missouri. Both inmates were executed using large doses of the sedative pentobarbital. In both cases, information about the source and exact composition of the drugs remained secret despite efforts to force the states to reveal more information.

A Pennsylvania man, Lewis Jordan, had been scheduled to be put to death on June 18th. Jordan confessed to killing a police officer during a Dunkin Donuts robbery in 2007. His execution was stayed in May, and appeals related to that case could take several years.

Henry will be the sixth person put to death in Florida and the 23rd person executed nationwide in 2014.