ATLANTA — A Georgia death row inmate convicted of raping and strangling a 15-year-old girl is scheduled to be executed Tuesday.
Marcus Wellons was convicted in 1993 in the death of his neighbor, India Roberts, a high school sophomore.
He has a clemency hearing before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday. But if his execution goes forward as planned Tuesday, Wellons will be the first inmate put to death in the U.S. since a botched execution in Oklahoma in April.
Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett died after his April 29 execution was halted when prison officials noted the lethal injection drugs – a combination of midazolam, vercuronium bromide and potassium chloride – weren’t being administered properly. The doctor inside the death chamber reported a single IV in Lockett’s groin became dislodged and the lethal drugs went into his tissue or leaked out of his body.
Oklahoma was using a new three-drug method for the first time, and Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth and attempted to lift his head several times before the state’s prison director halted the execution. Lockett died anyway, about 43 minutes from what prison officials have said was an apparent heart attack.
Georgia uses only one drug – the sedative pentobarbital – 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 an execution.
The Georgia Department of Corrections has confirmed that it has secured the pentobarbital for Wellons’ execution from a compounding pharmacy, which custom-make drug preparations.
Tuesday’s execution will mark the first time the state uses compounded pentobarbital 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, but 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.
Wellons’ lawyers said they have filed two lawsuits aimed at halting his execution.
One suit filed in Fulton County Superior Court says using pentobarbital outside of a physician-patient relationship and for no medical purpose means the prescription used to obtain it is invalid.
Another suit filed in a federal court in Atlanta says the state is violating Wellons’ civil rights and violating the U.S. Constitution by not disclosing the provider and true nature of the drugs that will be used in his scheduled execution. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled last month that Georgia’s law that shields the name of the drug provider is constitutional.
Roberts was killed the morning of Aug. 31, 1989, after she said goodbye to her mother and left for school. Police found Roberts’ naked body in the woods with cuts on her face and ear, and bruises on her neck.
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.
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.