Arizona Inmate Executed Amid Questions Over Drug
Mar 29, 2011 – 2:26 PM
Amanda Lee Myers
FLORENCE, Ariz. — A man convicted of killing two people in a 1989 Phoenix convenience store robbery was executed Tuesday despite last-minute arguments by his attorneys who raised questions over one of the lethal injection drugs and said they had raised “substantial doubt” about his guilt.
Arizona DOC / Arizona Republic / AP
Eric John King, convicted of shooting and killing two people in 1989, was executed Tuesday.
Eric John King’s death at the state prison in Florence was the first execution in the state since October and one of the last expected to use a three-drug lethal injection cocktail.
As the death chamber’s curtains opened, King smiled broadly at someone he knew and waved with a hand covered by a sheet. When asked if he had any last words, the 47-year-old calmly and firmly said, “No.” He then looked around at the estimated 30 witnesses in the room, at times smiling.
As he was sedated, King breathed heavily for several seconds then appeared to go to sleep.
Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced that King was declared dead at 10:22 a.m., 13 minutes after a medical staff member walked into the death chamber and declared that King had been sedated.
King had maintained his innocence since his arrest, and his lawyers fought until the last minute to get his sentence reversed or delayed.
The Arizona Supreme Court declined to stay King’s execution Monday after Burke argued that the state should wait until it enacts its new lethal injection protocol. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.
Ryan announced Friday that Arizona will switch to using just one drug in an effort to allay any “perceived concerns” that sodium thiopental is ineffective, but only after the scheduled executions of King and Daniel Wayne Cook on April 5.
Defense attorney Michael Burke had argued that the Department of Corrections may have engaged in fraud when it imported the sedative from Great Britain by listing it on forms as being for “animals (food processing),” not humans.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the mislabeling resulted from a clerical error.
Arizona obtained the drug legally, and that’s why it has been able to avoid problems other states have had, Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani has said. Georgia’s supply of sodium thiopental was seized by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents on March 15 over questions about how it was obtained.
The drug is part of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail used by nearly all 34 death penalty states, but it became scarce last year after the sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making it.
Some states started obtaining sodium thiopental overseas, and lawyers have argued that potentially adulterated, counterfeit or ineffective doses could subject prisoners to extreme pain.
Texas and Oklahoma recently announced they are switching from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital in their three-drug protocol. Ohio has switched to using only pentobarbital for its executions, and Ryan said that’s the drug Arizona might start using.
Burke also was unable to successfully argue that King be granted clemency at a hearing Thursday. Burke had argued that the two key witnesses who testified against King at his trial have changed their stories, that no physical evidence exists and surveillance video used at trial was of extremely poor quality.
Vince Imbordino, a prosecutor with the Maricopa County attorney’s office, argued that the photographic evidence was clear and that if jurors didn’t believe King was guilty, they wouldn’t have convicted him.
King was convicted of fatally shooting security guard Richard Butts and clerk Ron Barman at a Phoenix convenience store two days after Christmas in 1989. Butts and Barman both were married fathers whose families have testified that their deaths in a robbery that netted $72 devastated them.
Shortly before the killings, King had been released from a seven-year prison term on kidnapping and sexual assault charges. Police say King, who was 18 at the time, and another man kidnapped a woman and took her to an abandoned house, where both repeatedly and brutally sexually assaulted her over six hours.
Before he was sentenced in that crime, deputy adult probation officer Lee Brinkmoeller wrote that King had plans to reform himself.
“The defendant’s plans for the future are to become a machinist and to have his own car, house, family, and start being able to do things for his mother for all the things she has done for him,” Brinkmoeller wrote. “He states that he wants to have his mother be proud of him before she dies and he wants to be somebody.”
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Court documents show King had a troubled childhood. Born in a taxi on the way to the hospital in Phoenix, King was one of 12 siblings whose alcoholic, abusive and mentally disturbed father died of a heart attack when King was 11, according to court records.
Records also say King’s mother struggled to provide for the children, who were so hungry at times that they tried to catch crawdads in irrigation canals and frequently were without electricity.
King reported to a prison psychiatrist that he had heard voices on and off his entire life, and suffered from anxiety and insomnia.
His son, 20-year-old Eric Harrison, saw King for the first time Thursday at the clemency hearing and asked the board to spare his father.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen my dad, ever in life, and I know I love him,” Harrison said. “That’s my dad. He gave me life. Just don’t take him.”
King is the 23rd death row inmate Arizona has executed with the three-drug method since it began using lethal injection in 1993.
The state had previously executed 38 inmates with lethal gas since it started using that method in 1934. Another 28 inmates were executed by hanging between 1910 and 1931.