Arizona executes convicted killer

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

FLORENCE, Ariz. – Arizona has executed a man convicted of murdering two people during an armed robbery at a Phoenix convenience store in late 1989.

Eric John King, 47, was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Florence at 10 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 10:22 a.m. When asked if  he had any last words, King said only, "No."

King was convicted of shooting and killing security guard Richard Butts and convenience store clerk Rob Barman during an armed robbery on Dec. 27, 1989. The robbery netted just $72.

At the time of the robbery and shooting, King had just been released from prison after serving seven years for rape and kidnapping. Although he was convicted on two counts of murder, he always maintained his innocence in the convenience store killings. Defense attorneys said there was “substantial doubt” about King’s guilt.

“He has always maintained his innocence for the crimes,” said defense attorney Michael Burke. “I truly believe he was denied a fair trial.”

According to Burke, King was calm in his last hours of life, even after hearing that the U.S. Supreme Court would not step in and review a lower court’s decision to deny a stay of execution.

“Although he’s very calm, he [King] continues to maintain his innocence,” Burke said. “He’s done what he can do. All he has left to do is maintain his dignity.”

For his last meal, King had fried catfish, collard greens and chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream.

None of King's blood relatives were in the witnesses' viewing room.

Witnesses, including 3TV's Mike Watkiss, said King appeared to be smiling and at peace when he entered the death chamber. They said it even looked like he waved from beneath the sheet.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne witnessed the execution.

"It has been more than 20 years since Mr. Barman and Mr. Butts were murdered and now justice has finally been served," Horne said in a formal statement. "The families of the victims in this case may now take some comfort in knowing the criminal who deprived his victims of their lives and robbed their families of their loved ones has paid for this terrible crime.

"In the clemency hearing, a family member of one of the victims testified to the overwhelming anguish for the family because of the delay in achieving justice. Our office is working very hard to persuade the courts to shorten the unconscionable delay in doing justice in capital cases.”

In a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, doubts about King’s guilt were just one point defense attorneys argued.

Also at issue was the state’s method of execution. King was one of the last people put to death with a three-drug cocktail. Defense attorneys have questioned how one of those three drugs, an anesthetic called sodium thiopental, was obtained.

Both Arizona and Georgia got the drug in England just a short time before the British government banned such exports. Because the drug did not come from the Hospira, the only source of sodium thiopental approved by the Food and Drug Administration, some have questioned its quality. There has been some concern that the drug might not properly sedate the inmate.

Arizona’s last execution took place on Oct. 26. Jeffrey Landrigan won a one-day delay, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that there was no evidence that the sodium thiopental was unsafe.

"Speculation cannot substitute for evidence that the use of the drug is 'sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering,'" the court said.

Another execution slated for April 5 will be the last time the three-drug mix is used.

The state announced last week that it will switch to a single-drug injection.

On Monday, Burke argued that King’s execution should have been put on hold until that change is made. The Arizona Supreme Court denied the stay of execution.

Last week, Arizona’s five-member clemency board unanimously voted to turn down King’s request that his sentence be commuted to life in prison or that his execution be delayed.

Arizona began using lethal injection as its method of execution in 1993. Since then, the state has put 23 inmates to death using the three-drug combination.