Florida executes killer of 3, including boy

Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:34:24 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 18 2014 08:20:52 PM EDT

Florida Department of Corrections photo of John Henry

STARKE, Fla. -

Florida on Wednesday executed a Tampa-area man who murdered his estranged wife and her young son in 1985, two years after he had been paroled for killed his previous spouse.

It is the third U.S. execution in less than 24 hours since a botched April lethal injection in Oklahoma.

John Ruthell Henry, 63, was pronounced dead at 7:43 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection for the stabbing death of Suzanne Henry in Pasco County. He also was convicted in Hillsborough County of stabbing her 5-year-old son, Eugene Christian, near Plant City, hours after the woman's murder.

The U.S. Supreme Court and a federal appeals court refused last-ditch efforts by Henry's lawyers to block the execution. In recent months, Henry's attorneys have questioned whether his client was mentally stable enough to comprehend his death sentence. But the high court rejected that appeal.

Less than 24 earlier, Georgia and Missouri carried out separate executions. They were the first since the botched Oklahoma execution revived concerns about capital punishment. Neither execution had any noticeable complications, and Henry's execution Wednesday also appeared to go normally.

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.

Henry's was be the 13th execution in Florida since April 2013, and the 18th since Republican Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011.

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, the condemned man, had previously pleaded no contest to second-degree murder for stabbing his common-law wife, Patricia Roddy, in 1976. He served less than eight years in prison before being released in 1983. He had been on parole for two years when he killed his wife and the boy. Suzanne Henry's relatives told reporters she hadn't known about John Henry's previous killing when she married him after his release.

Just before his execution, Henry asked for forgiveness and apologized for what he'd done.

"I can't undo what I've done. If I could, I would. I ask for your forgiveness if you can find it in your heart," he said.

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.

Prosecutors said Henry then took the boy and drove around for nine hours, sometimes smoking crack cocaine, before stabbing him 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. He told them he had intended to commit suicide after killing the boy but said he was unable to go through with it.

In an appeal the Florida Supreme Court rejected last week, 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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