- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

FLORENCE, Ariz. | A man convicted of killing two people in a 1989 Phoenix convenience store robbery was executed Tuesday despite last-minute arguments by his attorneys who raised questions over one of the lethal injection drugs and said they had raised “substantial doubt” about his guilt.

Eric John King’s death at the state prison in Florence was Arizona’s first execution since October and one of the last expected to use a three-drug lethal injection method.

As the death chamber’s curtains opened, King smiled broadly at someone he knew and waved with a hand under a sheet that covered him to his neck. When asked if he had any last words, the 47-year-old calmly and firmly said, “No.” He then looked around at the estimated 30 witnesses in the room, at times smiling.

As he was sedated, King breathed heavily for several seconds then appeared to go to sleep.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced that King was declared dead at 10:22 a.m., 13 minutes after a medical staff member walked into the death chamber and declared that King had been sedated.

King, who had spent almost all his adult life in jail, had maintained his innocence since his arrest, and his lawyers fought until the last minute to get his sentence reversed or delayed.

Defense attorney Michael Burke said after the execution that there is no way to know whether King experienced pain after first being injected with sodium thiopental, a sedative that Mr. Burke has argued could be ineffective. The second drug paralyzes the inmate before potassium chloride is injected to stop his heart, so if the sedative doesn’t work through the entire procedure, King could have been in pain without any way to show it.

“You’d have no way of knowing if he was in pain or not,” Mr. Burke said. “As an observer, he closed his eyes and took some breaths, and I didn’t see him move after. It doesn’t really give me any solace.”

The Arizona Supreme Court declined to stay King’s execution Monday after Mr. Burke argued that the state should wait until it enacts its new lethal injection protocol. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.

Mr. Ryan announced Friday that Arizona will switch to using just one drug in an effort to allay any “perceived concerns” that sodium thiopental is ineffective, but only after the scheduled executions of King and Daniel Wayne Cook on April 5.

Mr. Burke also was unable to successfully argue that King be granted clemency at a hearing Thursday. Mr. Burke had argued that the two key witnesses who testified against King at his trial have changed their stories, that no physical evidence exists and surveillance video used at trial was of extremely poor quality.

King was convicted of fatally shooting security guard Richard Butts and clerk Ron Barman at a Phoenix convenience store two days after Christmas in 1989. Mr. Butts and Mr. Barman both were married fathers whose families have testified that their deaths in a robbery that netted $72 devastated them.

Shortly before the killings, King had been released from a seven-year prison term on kidnapping and sexual assault charges. Police say King, who was 18 at the time of those crimes, and another man kidnapped a woman and took her to an abandoned house, where both repeatedly and brutally sexually assaulted her over six hours.

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