Georgia's first execution with its new secret source of lethal injection drugs went mostly as planned Tuesday night, despite concerns that it would be a repeat of a botched execution in Oklahoma seven weeks ago.
The execution of 59-year-old Marcus Wellons began at 10:41 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson, and he was declared dead at 11:56, said Georgia Department of Corrections spokesperson Gwendolyn Hogan.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Rhonda Cook, a veteran execution observer who functioned as a media witness outside the death chamber Tuesday, said it did take a long time for Wellons to die, but he didn't seem to suffer.
"You could see him breathing through his mouth, and he twitched once. He raised his head once, but otherwise there was no sound coming from him," Cook said.
In contrast, Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Lockett died in less time, but groaned and writhed during his April 29 execution.
Both Georgia and Oklahoma have controversial new laws that shield the identity of their lethal injection drug suppliers.
Without knowing where the drugs are coming from, lawyers for the condemned say they can't verify whether the execution will be unconstitutionally cruel.
Prison officials in more than a dozen states say drug makers are no longer willing to supply lethal injections unless their companies can remain anonymous.
Associated Press reporter Kate Brumback, who also witnessed the execution, corroborated Cook's observations about Wellons' death.
"He was very still, he showed no sign of movement," Brumback said. "He had his eyes closed the whole time."
In an unusual twist, however, one of the prison guards fainted toward the end of the procedure.
"There are two officers in the death chamber," said Cook. "There's a nurse in there as well, and she was mouthing something. I'm guessing she was asking, 'Are you ok?' And the next thing you see, some people on the side of the room moving, and he falls forward."
Brumback said she was told by a prison official that the guard who passed out had witnessed many executions before without incident.
Wellons was declared dead almost five hours after his execution was originally schedule to begin.
People inside and outside the prison waited while a last-minute request from Wellons' lawyers to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene was considered and ultimately rejected by the court.
A small group of anti-death penalty protesters sang hymns in the roped-off protest area outside the prison, including Atlanta's Episcopal Bishop Rob Wright.
"Are we saying that there's a crime so heinous where people don't deserve to live? And if that is the case, please show me that in the gospel of Jesus Christ," Wright said.
Wellons was convicted in 1993 of the 1989 rape and murder of 15-year-old India Roberts. The two were neighbors in Cobb County at the time.