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Marcus A. Wellons executed for murder, rape of Georgia teen | POLL

Marcus A. Wellons is the first to receive the death penalty since a botched excution in Oklahoma in April

Convicted murdere Marcus Wellons was put to death Tuesday night by the state of Georgia. (Special photo)

Convicted murdere Marcus Wellons was put to death Tuesday night by the state of Georgia. (Special photo)

JACKSON — Marcus A. Wellons, convicted of the 1989 rape and murder of 15-year-old India Roberts, was executed Tuesday night four minutes before midnight at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

The execution, the first using a drug that the state of Georgia has obtained from a secret supplier, took about an hour to complete, though witnesses said Wellons did not appear to suffer, reports said. The sentence was set to be carried out at 7 p.m. after the Georgia Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Wellons’ attorneys but was delayed when an appeal was made to the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal was rejected at 10:36 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

State corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said Wellons made a statement of apology and recited a short prayer just before his execution, Reuters News Service reported. The procedure went smoothly, she said.

A little more than an hour later at a Missouri state prison in Bonne Terre, John Winfield, 46, met the same fate for killing two women and leaving his ex-girlfriend blind and disfigured in a 1996 rampage. Winfield, who declined a final meal and made no last statement, was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m. (1:10 a.m. EDT), Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O’Connell said.

A third inmate is scheduled for execution this evening in Florida.

Wellons’ was the first lethal injection since the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, a murderer and rapist, in Oklahoma. Lockett died from an apparent heart attack 30 minutes after his execution procedure was halted because Oklahoma authorities were unable to properly administer the lethal injection.

Appeals attorneys have argued that states such as Georgia, which refuses to divulge the source of its lethal drug, are violating the rights of the inmates set to be executed. In May, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state’s right to shield the source of its execution drug, pentobarbital, in an appeal filed by Warren Lee Hill, who is awaiting execution for the brutal 1990 murder of a fellow inmate at what is now Lee State Prison in Leesburg.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Georgia in a 5-2 decision denied a stay of execution for Wellons, with Justices Robert Benham and Carol Hunstein dissenting. The state high court also rejected Wellons’ application to appeal a Fulton County court order dismissing his constitutional challenge of the Georgia statute that protects as a “confidential state secret” the identities of the producers and suppliers of the state’s lethal injection drugs. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney also denied Wellons’ request for preliminary injunction and stay of execution.

Hill had been granted a stay of execution in the summer of 2013 by a Fulton County Superior Court judge to review the constitutionality of a Georgia statute that protects as a “state secret” the identities of the producers and suppliers of Georgia’s lethal injection drugs. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed that stay on May 19, but Wellons had sought to intervene in Hill’s appeal while that appeal was still within the jurisdiction of the state Supreme Court.

According to a summary of the case from the Georgia Supreme Court, Wellons was living with his girlfriend, Gail Saunders, in her Cobb County apartment in the summer of 1989, when Saunders’ 14-year-old son, Tony, also came to live in the apartment. India occasionally visited Tony at the apartment, something that Wellons encouraged. When Tony moved to live with grandparents in Chattanooga, India continued to occasionally spend time with Saunders, who described herself as India’s “play mommy” in whom the teen confided.

Wellons, a counselor in a psychiatric ward at a hospital where Saunders worked, had claimed that he had a house but couldn’t bring himself to turn out his ex-girlfriend and her two children. He proposed to Saunders, but by then she’d become suspicious, saying she verbally accepted the proposal out of fear while she looked for a way to end the relationship with Wellons. On Aug. 30, 1989, after Wellons had been fired from his job, Saunders told him he had to leave. Wellons bought a plane ticket to Miami for Aug. 31, but Saunders, who noted he had become hostile and abusive during the relationship, didn’t want to stay alone with him. She stayed with a friend after telling Wellons she was going to Chattanooga to enroll Tony in school.

Wellons attempted to contact Saunders, but failed, became angry and started drinking. He ransacked her apartment, then attempted to cover it up by reporting a break-in at 3 a.m. on Aug. 31. Bleeding, he told police he had gotten injured struggling with the intruders.

India left her apartment to go to school at 8 a.m. Saunders’ next door neighbor reported she heard muffled screams from Sauders’ apartment shortly afterward. Around 2 p.m., Wellons approached an acquaintance at a grocery store separated from the apartment complex by a wooded area, asking to borrow a car.

Around 2:30 p.m., a retired military police officer driving near that wooded area saw a person in the distance carrying what appeared to be a body wrapped in a sheet. He drove on, but returned for a second look, finally spotting in his mirror a man walking along the roadway who threw a sheet into the woods. He went to the grocery store and called 911.

Once India’s body was discovered, the investigation led to Wellons the retired officer said he was 70-80 percent sure he was the man he had seen on the road. Evidence, including India’s notebook and clothing, was found in Saunders’ apartment, where Wellons had been. Investigators determined India had been forced from the kitchen area of Aunders’ apartment upstairs to Tony’s bedroom, where she was raped and strangled, possibly with a telephone cord. Her face and ear had been cut with a sharp object.

On June 5, 1993, a Cobb County Superior Court jury found Wellons guilty of murder and rape and recommended the death penalty.

Reuters News Service contributed to this report.