A Missouri inmate was executed on Wednesday hours after he lost an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that argued the lethal drug the state uses could cause a painful death.
Walter Timothy Storey was executed for killing 36-year-old special education teacher on Feb. 2, 1990 in a St. Louis suburb.
Strapped to the gurney, Storey mouthed what appeared to be "I love you" to his witnesses and the family of the victim, Jill Frey.
He appeared to then start singing or chanting — it was impossible to tell because of the thick glass separating the execution room from the viewing area. Seconds after the drug was administered at 12:01 a.m., he stopped suddenly and heaved one deep final breath. He was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt the execution over concerns about Missouri's secretive process for obtaining and using the lethal injection drug pentobarbital.
Four justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — would have granted the stay.
Missouri obtains its execution drug, pentobarbital, from an unnamed compounding pharmacy, and prison officials refuse to disclose details about how or if it is tested. Storey's attorney argued that the secrecy makes it impossible to know if the barbiturate will quickly work or cause an unconstitutionally painful death.
Jennifer Herndon cited an anesthesiologist who said that that "sub-potent pentobarbital" could severely disable the prisoner without killing him, potentially leaving him alive but permanently brain-damaged.
In a response, the Missouri attorney general's office noted that virtually every recent inmate facing execution has raised the same issue.
"A dozen Missouri executions using pentobarbital have been rapid and painless," the response read.
Herndon also expressed concerns about Missouri's use of the sedative midazolam prior to executions. The state has said the drug is administered to help calm the nerves of inmates, and only to those who want it.
Herndon wrote that midazolam was used in three botched executions in other states in 2014.
Storey, 47, was sentenced to death three separate times in the same case.
The Missouri Supreme Court tossed the first conviction, citing concerns about ineffective assistance of counsel and "egregious" errors committed by Kenny Hulshof, who was with the Missouri attorney general's office at the time and handled the prosecution. Hulshof was later a congressman and a candidate for governor.
Storey was tried again in 1997, and sentenced again to death. That conviction was also overturned, this time over a procedural error by the judge. Storey was sentenced to death a third time in 1999.
Missouri executed 10 people in 2014 — a record for the state — and Story’s death is the first this year.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press