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Delaware killer put to death after waiving appeals

SMYRNA, Del. — A convicted Delaware killer who waived his right to further appeals and sought to speed his execution was put to death by lethal injection early Friday after a flurry of court filings spurred by federal public defenders seeking to spare his life.

Shannon Johnson was pronounced dead at 2:55 a.m., just minutes before the 3 a.m. deadline for his execution.

Johnson was already strapped to a gurney when witness were led into the execution chamber.

“Loyalty is important. Without loyalty you have nothing. Death before dishonor,” he said when asked by the prison warden if he had a final statement. Johnson then uttered a few words in Arabic before he closed his eyes and the first of three chemicals began flowing through his veins.

As the sedative pentobarbital was administered, Johnson’s breathing became labored and his chest heaved several times. A few seconds later, he was motionless and showed no more signs of movement. The entire process took less than 15 minutes.

The execution was carried out after the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, within a span of nine hours, twice overturned decisions by U.S. Chief District Judge Gregory Sleet in Wilmington halting the execution in response to arguments by federal public defenders that Johnson was mentally incompetent.

The U.S. Supreme Court also denied an application for a stay of execution.

Johnson, 28, was convicted of the 2006 murder of Cameron Hamlin, 25, who was shot after Johnson found him sitting in a car with his ex-girlfriend near downtown Wilmington. Johnson later shot the former girlfriend, but she survived.

After the state Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in 2009, Johnson said he did not want to pursue any further appeals.

Federal public defenders later sought to intervene in Johnson’s case without his consent, arguing he was mentally incompetent. In a filing submitted last week, they sought permission from Sleet to allow Johnson’s estranged sister to argue on his behalf that he was mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty.

Following a lengthy hearing last year, Superior Court Judge M. Jane Brady declared in February that Johnson was mentally competent to waive his right to further appeals and that he understood the legal consequences of that decision.

The federal appeals court said it was “firmly convinced” that the Superior Court’s finding of Johnson’s competency was entitled to a presumption of correctness, and that Sleet had abused his discretion in granting a stay of execution.

“Now it’s time for us to focus on putting our lives back together,” said Hamlin’s father, Vandrick Hamlin.

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