ATLANTA — In what would be the first lethal injection since a botched execution in Oklahoma nearly two months ago, a Georgia death row inmate convicted in 1993 of raping and murdering his 15-year-old neighbor is set to die Tuesday evening.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for 59-year-old Marcus Wellons and his lawyers filed a number of legal challenges and appeals seeking to halt his execution. The state Supreme Court rejected his appeal Tuesday evening. The execution was set for 7 p.m., and nearly four hours, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a last-minute reprieve.
A federal judge did approve a request by Wellons' lawyers to have an anesthesiologist they selected witness the execution. Wellons' lawyers argued that the state's refusal to provide information about the drug made it impossible to mount a successful challenge based on the Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment.
The doctor's testimony about what he sees in Wellons' execution could be used to support a similar challenge by another inmate, Wellons' lawyers argue. The state had argued that it would violate Georgia law and that there are no relevant current challenges.
Georgia uses one drug for executions. Like many other states, Georgia has had trouble obtaining execution drugs in recent years because major drugmakers, many based in Europe where opposition to capital punishment is strong, began refusing to sell their products if they were to be used in executions.
The Georgia Department of Corrections confirmed last week that it had secured the pentobarbital for Wellons' execution from a compounding pharmacy, which custom-makes drug preparations.
Tuesday's execution marks the first time the state will use a compounded drug in an execution, though other states have done so. Georgia also used a compounding pharmacy last July to get pentobarbital for an execution that ultimately was delayed. That drug expired a month later. The state declined to identify the compounding pharmacy, citing a 2013 law that prohibits the disclosure of the identity of any entity involved in an execution.
India Roberts, a high school sophomore from the Atlanta suburbs, was killed the morning of Aug. 31, 1989, after she said goodbye to her mother and left for school. Not long after she left her home, a neighbor heard muffled screams from inside the nearby apartment of Gail Saunders, authorities said.
Authorities say Wellons had been dating Saunders and lived with her at her apartment in the summer of 1989.
Later that afternoon, a man driving near a wooded area by the apartment complex called police saying he had seen a man carrying what appeared to be a body in a sheet.
Police found Roberts' naked body in the woods with cuts on one side of her face and ear, and bruises on her neck. Authorities later searched Saunders' apartment and found Roberts' notebooks and earrings. In a bedroom, they found Roberts' underwear and blood on the mattress.
Evidence suggested Wellons forcibly brought Roberts from the kitchen to the bedroom and strangled her, authorities said. An autopsy indicated she had been raped.
A jury found Wellons guilty of rape and murder and recommended the death penalty.