JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — A prisoner lost his bid for a stay of execution from Georgia's high court Thursday less than two hours before he was set to die for killing a 78-year-old Savannah woman.
Roy Willard Blankenship had asked the state Supreme Court to halt his execution because a drug that state prison officials are planning to use for the first time could cause him to experience "terror and excruciating pain."
The court's decision to deny the stay was unanimous Thursday afternoon.
Blankenship was scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. for the 1978 killing of Sarah Mims Bowen, who died of heart failure after she was raped in her Savannah apartment. He would be the first person executed in Georgia using a drug called pentobarbital, which his attorneys say is untested and unsafe.
Blankenship's attorney, Brian Kammer, filed an appeal to the state's top court claiming that the use of pentobarbital to carry out executions would risk needless pain and suffering for the condemned man. He noted that Lundbeck Inc., pentobarbital's Danish manufacturer, has warned that using the drug to carry out the death penalty "falls outside its approved indications."
State attorneys countered that the claims were unfounded, and said that the drug had been used in more than a dozen executions by other states that switched from sodium thiopental amid a nationwide supply shortage. State and federal courts have repeatedly allowed the drug to be used in lethal injections, they said.
Blankenship's supporters also asked the state medical board to revoke the license of Dr. Carlo Musso, whose company was hired by state prison officials to participate in executions. It claimed Musso ran afoul of the law by importing the drug from overseas manufacturers without first registering with state regulators and later sold the drugs to officials in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Musso has declined to comment on the filing, and the board has yet to issue a decision. But state attorneys have called the complaint a red herring and said that Musso played only a limited role in executions.
Blankenship was convicted three times in Bowen's killing. Her bloody, nude body was discovered by friends and neighbors after the attack, and police were able to trace footsteps to the area where Blankenship lived across the street. They also matched blood scrapings and seminal fluid to Bowen.
At his 1980 trial, Blankenship testified that he broke into his neighbor's apartment after a drinking binge and overheard a commotion involving Bowen and a third person. He said he found Bowen on the floor, placed her on the bed, tried and failed to rape her and then bolted when she appeared to wake up. He said she was still in clothes when he left, and she hadn't been beaten up.
A jury didn't buy his account and in 1980 he was sentenced to death on murder charges. The death sentence was reversed by the Georgia Supreme Court a year later over a juror issue. He was re-sentenced to death in 1982, but that sentence was reversed when the court ruled that Blankenship's attorneys were restricted from presenting key evidence.
At Blankenship's third trial in 1986, he was again sentenced to die. This time, state and federal courts upheld the capital sentence.
The Georgia pardons board granted him a temporary reprieve in February to give authorities more time to conduct DNA testing. In June, after the tests returned inconclusive, the board rejected his appeal.
Georgia is joining a growing number of states that have begun using pentobarbital in executions. Many of the nation's 34 death penalty states switched to pentobarbital or began considering a switch after Hospira Inc., the sole manufacturer of sodium thiopental in the U.S., said in January it would no longer make the drug.
Georgia has been under particular scrutiny after Drug Enforcement Administration regulators seized the state's stockpile of sodium thiopental amid questions about how it had obtained the supply. Court records show the state bought the drug from Dream Pharma, a London company. Inmates' attorneys have called it a fly-by-night supplier that operates from the back of a driving school.