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June 17, 2014

Georgia execution would be 1st since Okla. problem

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 the death of his 15-year-old neighbor is set to be executed Tuesday evening.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency for Marcus Wellons, 59, convicted in 1993 of raping and murdering his India Roberts, a high school sophomore in the Atlanta suburbs.

Last week, his lawyers filed two legal challenges with the aim of halting his execution, scheduled at the state prison in Jackson with an injection of the sedative pentobarbital.

One lawsuit filed in a federal court in Atlanta said the state was violating Wellons' civil rights and the U.S. Constitution by not disclosing the provider and true nature of the drugs that will be used. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten dismissed that challenge, and Wellons' lawyers have appealed.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt approved 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.

Another lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court said using pentobarbital outside of a physician-patient relationship and for no medical purpose means the prescription used to obtain it is invalid. That challenge was still pending.

Georgia uses only 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 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.

Roberts 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 in June 1993.

 

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