A man convicted of killing a country preacher during a 1991 robbery was put to death by lethal injection in Alabama on Thursday, weeks after he avoided another execution date amid disagreements between US Supreme Court justices.
Christopher Lee Price, 46, became the second inmate put to death in Alabama in two weeks. The execution was carried out at Holman prison, where he was pronounced dead at 7.31pm.
Convicted in the killing of Bill Lynn, a north Alabama pastor slain by a sword and knife just days before Christmas, Price released a cryptic apology through his attorney before the execution.
"A man is much more than his worst mistake," he said while strapped to a gurney moments before the drugs began flowing.
Price appeared to grow emotional and unable to speak further when the Holman warden removed the microphone from his gurney. After the mic was removed, he said something that was inaudible from the witness chamber. A Montgomery Advertiser reporter heard the words, "Tell my wife, Diane."
Earlier, Price refused his breakfast but requested four pints (1.8 litres) of Turtle Pie ice cream for his final meal.
Govenor Kay Ivey issued a statement saying Price had to be punished.
"Finally, the loved ones of Pastor Lynn can feel at ease knowing that justice has been administered. I pray that, after all these years later, his family can feel a sense of peace and comfort," she said.
Relatives of both Price and Lynn were among the witnesses as the inmate was put to death shortly after the US Supreme Court rejected a final request for a stay. The execution had been delayed by more than an hour while the state awaited the court's decision, a prison official said.
Price lifted and lowered his head twice after the initial knockout drug began flowing, and his belly heaved five times. He didn't respond when an officer tested for consciousness by flicking his eyelashes and punching an arm.The color soon began draining from his face as additional drugs flowed through an intravenous line, and the process was over within minutes.
A statement from Lynn's family thanked friends and relatives for their support during a "long and difficult journey."
"We are praying to finally have peace," said the statement, read by a prison official.
Price sought a stay based on a challenge to the state's method of using three drugs during lethal injections. The nation's high court, by a 5-4 vote, refused to halt the execution Thursday night. The conservative majority did not give a reason for denying the stay.
Price had asked to instead die by nitrogen hypoxia, an execution method Alabama has legally authorised but not developed. His lawyers argued the method, which kills by depleting the body of oxygen, would be less painful than lethal injection.
Price was suing over Alabama's execution practices, and the inmate's attorneys contend the state rushed to execute him two weeks before the trial date. State attorneys argued that Price was bringing up previously decided issues at the last minute just to seek a delay.
The inmate was set to be executed last month but the state death warrant expired at midnight before a divided US Supreme Court lifted a stay that blocked the lethal injection. The court subsequently released documents that showed its internal squabbling over the death penalty.
The Alabama Supreme Court then set a new execution date even though US District Judge Kristi DuBose of Mobile had scheduled a trial set for June 10 to hear Price's challenge to Alabama's lethal injection process.
In a dissent Thursday, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the court should have delayed the execution until the trial could take place.
Court documents show Lynn, a Church of Christ minister in rural Fayette County, was at home with his wife Bessie assembling toys for grandchildren on December 22, 1991 when the electricity failed. He went outside to check on the power box, and the woman looked outside after hearing a noise to see a man dressed in black holding a sword above her husband.
The woman ran outside to find Lynn severely wounded, and she saw two men as she tried to start a van to flee. She was beaten and robbed of money and her wedding rings despite pleas that she be allowed to keep the jewellery, court documents show. According to an autopsy, Lynn was cut or stabbed more than 30 times.
Price was arrested several days later in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He admitted participating in the robbery but blamed the actual killing on another man.
Kelvin Coleman pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison, while jurors convicted Price of capital murder and a judge sentenced him to death.
Earlier this month, Michael Brandon Samra was put to death by lethal injection for his capital murder conviction in a quadruple killing near Birmingham. His lawyers didn't cite any complaints with the process following the execution.
Alabama executed one other inmate this year in February.