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Arizona inmate executed amid questions over drug

A man convicted of killing two people in a 1989 Phoenix convenience store robbery was executed today despite last-minute arguments by his attorneys who raised questions over one of the lethal injection drugs and said they had raised "substantial doubt" about his guilt.

world Updated: Mar 31, 2011 21:54 IST

A man convicted of killing two people in a 1989 Phoenix convenience store robbery was executed today despite last-minute arguments by his attorneys who raised questions over one of the lethal injection drugs and said they had raised "substantial doubt" about his guilt.

Eric John King's death at the state prison in Florence was the first execution in the state since October and one of the last expected to use a three-drug lethal injection cocktail.

The 47-year-old had maintained his innocence since his arrest, and his lawyers fought until the last minute to get his sentence reversed or delayed.

Defence attorney Mike Burke said before the execution that he visited with King today morning.

"Although he's very calm, he continues to maintain his innocence," Burke told The Associated Press. "He's done what he can do. All he has left to do is maintain his dignity."

The Arizona Supreme Court declined to stay King's execution yesterday after Burke argued that the state should wait until it enacts its new lethal injection protocol. The US Supreme Court refused to intervene.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced Friday that Arizona will switch to using just one drug in an effort to allay any "perceived concerns" that sodium thiopental is ineffective, but only after the scheduled executions of King and Daniel Wayne Cook on April 5.

Defence attorney Michael Burke had argued that the Department of Corrections may have engaged in fraud when it imported the sedative from Great Britain by listing it on forms as being for "animals (food processing)," not humans. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the mislabelling resulted from a clerical error.

Arizona obtained the drug legally, and that's why it has been able to avoid problems other states have had, Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani has said.

Georgia's supply of sodium thiopental was seized by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents on March 15 over questions about how it was obtained.

The drug is part of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail used by nearly all 34 death penalty states, but it became scarce last year after the sole US manufacturer stopped making it.