Florida Man Is 3rd Inmate Executed in U.S. in 24 Hours

Thursday, Jun 19, 2014  |  Updated 6:58 AM EDT
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Florida has executed a man who fatally stabbed his wife and her young son in 1985.

The governor's office says John Ruthell Henry was pronounced dead at 7:43 p.m. Wednesday.

The 63-year-old was convicted and sentenced to death for fatally stabbing his wife, Suzanne Henry.

Just before his execution, Henry asked for forgiveness and apologized for what he'd done. He also was convicted of fatally stabbing Suzanne Henry's 5-year-old son hours after the woman's murder.

Henry previously had pleaded no contest to second-degree murder for stabbing his common-law wife, Patricia Roddy, in 1976. He served less than eight years and was released in 1983.

It wasthe 13th execution in Florida since April 2013 and the 18th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011. On Wednesday, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Henry's last-ditch effort to postpone the execution.
 
Hours earlier, Georgia and Missouri carried out separate executions, the first since a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma in April revived concerns about capital punishment. Neither execution had any noticeable complications.

 
Georgia and Missouri both use the single drug pentobarbital, a sedative. Florida uses a three-drug combination of midazolam hydrochloride, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
 
Midazolam, a sedative used before surgery, has only been used in Florida since October; previously, sodium thiopental was used, but its U.S. manufacturer stopped making it and Europe banned its manufacturers from exporting it for executions.
 
During the first Florida execution using midazolam, it appeared to an Associated Press reporter that it took longer for inmate William Happ to lose consciousness than others who have been executed under the previous drug mix. In the six executions since, the process has appeared to go normally.
 
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday brushed aside questions about the state's execution procedures, saying he has to "uphold the laws of the land."
 
When asked directly if he had discussed with the Department of Corrections what happened in Oklahoma and whether any changes were needed in Florida, Scott would only say: "I focus on making sure that we do things the right way here."
 
Henry had been on parole for two years when he killed his wife and Eugene. Suzanne Henry's relatives told reporters she hadn't known about John Henry's previous killing when she married him after his release.
 
During Henry's trial, prosecutors said the unemployed bricklayer went to Suzanne Henry's home three days before Christmas of 1985 to talk about buying a gift for the boy, who was Suzanne's son from a prior relationship. They fought over Henry living with another woman and he stabbed her 13 times in the neck and face, killing her.
 
Prosecutors said Henry then took the boy and drove around for nine hours, sometimes smoking crack cocaine, before fatally stabbing five times in the neck.
 
Hours later, Henry told a detective, he found himself wandering a field. He later told therapists he had killed the child to reunite him with his mother.
 
Henry tried to use an insanity defense for killing his wife.
 
Psychiatrists at the trial testified that Henry had a low IQ, suffered from chronic paranoia and smoked crack cocaine. He told them he had intended to commit suicide after killing the boy but said he was unable to go through with it.
 
During the trial, then-Pasco County detective Fay Wilber testified that he drove Henry to find the boy's body. When the boy's ``two small feet'' were finally seen in the underbrush after dawn, Henry "started crying," Wilber said, according to news reports.
 
"He was crying and he held on to me," the detective said.
 
In recent months, Henry's attorneys have questioned whether his client was mentally stable enough to comprehend his death sentence.
 
In an appeal the Florida Supreme Court rejected last week, Henry's attorney, Baya Harrison III, wrote that Henry's "abhorrent childhood, extensive personal and family mental health history, poor social adjustment, and lack of rational thinking and reasoning skills so impaired his adaptive functioning that he was actually performing at the level of a person with an IQ of 70."
      
In May, a panel of mental health experts said Henry doesn't suffer from mental illness or an intellectual disability and that he understands ``the nature and effect of the death penalty and why it is to be imposed on him,'' according to court records.
 
Nine executions nationwide have been stayed or postponed since late April, when Oklahoma prison officials halted the execution of Clayton Lockett after noting that the lethal injection drugs weren't being administered into his vein properly. Lockett died of a heart attack several minutes later.

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