Death Penalty

Prison official faints during execution; sentence was upheld despite jurors' gag gifts, drug secrecy

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The execution of a Georgia inmate went off without a hitch on Tuesday, although a prison official fainted during the procedure.

Marcus Wellons apologized for murdering and raping a 15-year-old girl before he received execution drugs from a source that was undisclosed under a state secrecy law, report the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter who witnessed the execution wrote that Wellons appeared to exhale a couple times, his body quivered, then there was no more movement. A corrections officer fainted three minutes before Wellons was declared dead, shortly before midnight.

Wellons was the first inmate put to death since the botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett, whose execution was halted after he kicked, grimaced and lifted his head from the gurney in reaction to the execution drugs. Lockett later died of a heart attack.

In a per curiam opinion, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Wellons’ execution despite the secrecy surrounding the source of the execution drug. Judge Charles Wilson concurred, but he wrote separately “to highlight the disturbing circularity problem created by Georgia’s secrecy law.”

Inmates challenging their execution must demonstrate the risk of severe pain is substantial compared to the known alternatives, Wilson said. “Possibly due to his lack of information about the compound pentobarbital that will be used and the expertise of the people who will administer his execution, Wellons has not shown such a risk,” Wilson wrote. “Indeed, how could he when the state has passed a law prohibiting him from learning about the compound it plans to use to execute him?”

Wilson also said he has “serious concerns” about the need to keep secret information about execution drugs, “given the recent much publicized botched execution in Oklahoma.”

In 2012, the 11th Circuit also ruled against Wellons in a challenge based on jurors’ chocolate gag gifts to the judge and the bailiff. The chocolate was shaped as a penis and female breasts.

A second inmate, John Winfield, was executed shortly after midnight on Wednesday with a lethal injection of pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy, Missourinet reports.

Corrected at 8:20 a.m. to state that the source of Wellons’ execution drug was a secret.

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