ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution Tuesday from a Missouri man who was set to become the first U.S. inmate put to death since a lethal injection went awry last month in Arizona.
Michael Worthington, 43, raped and strangled a female college student in 1995. But his attorneys pressed the nation’s high court to put off his execution planned for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at a prison south of St. Louis, calling into question the Arizona execution and two others that were botched in Ohio and Oklahoma, as well as the secrecy involving the drugs used during the process in Missouri.
The Supreme Court said Worthington’s application for a stay, presented to Justice Samuel Alito and then referred to the Court, was denied. Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon also was weighing Worthington’s clemency request, spokesman Scott Holste said.
The three botched executions in recent months have renewed the debate over lethal injection. In Arizona, the inmate gasped more than 600 times and took nearly two hours to die. In April, an Oklahoma inmate died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution began. And in January, an Ohio inmate snorted and gasped for 26 minutes before dying. Most lethal injections take effect in a fraction of that time, often within 10 or 15 minutes.
Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio all use midazolam, a drug more commonly given to help patients relax before surgery. In executions, it is part of a two- or three-drug lethal injection.
Texas and Missouri instead administer a single large dose of pentobarbital — often used to treat convulsions and seizures and to euthanize animals. Missouri changed to pentobarbital late last year and since has carried out eight executions during which inmates showed no obvious signs of distress.
Missouri and Texas have turned to compounding pharmacies to make versions of pentobarbital. But like most states, they refuse to name their drug suppliers, creating a shroud of secrecy that has prompted lawsuits.
Worthington, originally from Peoria in central Illinois, was sentenced to death in 1998 after pleading guilty to slaying Melinda “Mindy” Griffin, a neighbor in Lake St. Louis, just west of St. Louis.
Worthington confessed that in September 1995, he cut open a window screen to break in to the college finance major’s condominium, choked her into submission and raped her before strangling her when she regained consciousness. He stole her car keys and jewelry, along with credit cards he used to buy drugs.
Worthington confessed to the killing but insisted he couldn’t remember details and that he was prone to blackouts due to alcohol and cocaine abuse.
DNA tests later linked Worthington to the slaying.
During his sentencing hearing, Worthington’s attorney argued that a life term would be more fitting, saying the man had abusive parents who got him addicted to drugs and made him steal.
On Tuesday, Griffin’s 76-year-old parents anticipated witnessing Worthington die.
“It’s been 19 years, and I feel like there’s going to be a finality,” Griffin’s mother, Carol Angelbeck, told The Associated Press by telephone Tuesday, a day after flying in to St. Louis from their Florida home. With the execution, “I won’t have to ever deal with the name Michael Worthington again. I’m hoping for my family’s sake, my sake, that we can go there (to the prison) and get this over with.”
“In this case, there is no question in anyone’s mind he did it, so why does it take 18 or 19 years to go through with this?” added Jack Angelbeck, Griffin’s father. “This drags on and on. At this point, it’s ridiculous, and hopefully it’s going to end.”