ATLANTA -- A death row inmate convicted of the 1978 slaying of an elderly woman in Savannah could be the first person in Georgia put to death under a new three-drug execution cocktail.
A judge set the execution date for Roy Willard Blankenship between June 23 and June 30.
The state in May swapped pentobarbital for sodium thiopental, a sedative that is in scarce supply nationwide. Georgia was forced to make the move after it surrendered its supply of sodium thiopental to the Drug Enforcement Administration amid questions about how the state obtained its supply.
Blankenship was originally set to die in February for the murder of 78-year-old Sarah Mims Bowen, who died of heart failure after she was raped in her Savannah apartment. But the Georgia pardons board delayed the execution to give authorities more time to do DNA testing on the victim's remains.
Defense attorney Brian Kammer said the tests were inconclusive.
Blankenship's attorneys also sought to delay the execution by claiming in a federal lawsuit that Georgia's stockpile of sodium thiopental had expired and that using outdated drugs may cause excruciating pain. A judge rejected the claim, and the argument is moot now that Georgia switched drugs.
At Blankenship's trial, he testified that he broke into Bowen's apartment after a drinking binge, tried and failed to rape her and then bolted when she appeared to wake up.
His defense attorneys said Blankenship was in the apartment but that evidence suggests another man killed her. But prosecutors said Blankenship confessed to the killings two weeks after the death. They also matched his blood samples and seminal fluid to the killing, and police said they were able to trace footsteps from Bowen's place to the area where Blankenship lived across the street.
Blankenship was convicted in a 1980 trial and sentenced to death, but that penalty and another issued two years later were overturned on appeal. At his third sentencing trial in 1986, he was again sentenced to die. But that time, state and federal courts upheld the capital sentence.