(Reuters) - A Mississippi man convicted of murdering two people during convenience store robberies was executed on Wednesday by lethal injection, becoming the first person to be put to death in the state this year, a corrections official said.
Edwin Hart Turner, whose lawyers had argued suffered from a serious mental illness, was executed for the 1995 killings after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute stay. Turner, 38, had no final words before his death.
Court records show that Turner and an accomplice who later received a life sentence were drinking beer and smoking marijuana in Carroll County in December 1995, when they decided to rob convenience stores. Two people were killed.
After the murders, the two men shared $400 in stolen cash, ate cinnamon rolls and shrimp, and went to sleep at Turner's home.
Turner's attorney, Jim Craig of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, had argued that important information relating to Turner's mental health wasn't presented during his trial, and that Turner had a "long and extensive" history of mental illness.
U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves had on Monday ordered the execution postponed until at least February 20 to allow attorneys to argue whether the state had improperly kept him from getting a psychiatric evaluation.
But the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the stay by a vote of 2-1, and a last minute appeal to the Supreme Court failed to halt the execution.
Relatives of the two men killed in the robberies, Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry, witnessed the execution.
"This evening, after 16 years, we feel that justice, although delayed, has finally been served for the horrendous crime done to our family," Roy Curry, Everett Curry's brother, said in a statement on behalf of his family.
"This awful person brutally murdered a beloved husband, father and brother. The hurt and pain are just as real to us now as on that day 16 years ago."
For his last meal, Turner requested a medium-rare porterhouse steak, fried shrimp with cocktail sauce, two slices of Texas toast, a side salad with Russian dressing, a pack of Twizzlers candy, and sweet tea, according to the Department of Corrections.
Richard Bourke, director of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, said the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans overstretched its authority in overturning the temporary restraining order.
"Two judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have announced a new rule granting themselves the power that Congress did not intend for them to have," Bourke said in a statement. "This is the worst kind of judicial activism."
Governor Phil Bryant said Turner's case didn't warrant clemency.
"After reviewing the facts associated with Mr. Edwin Hart Turner's case, I have decided not to grant clemency for his violent acts," Bryant said in a statement. "Mr. Turner has been convicted by a jury of his peers and I see no reason to delay this execution."
After the 1995 killings, police investigators suspected Turner's involvement in the crimes after witnesses said one of the perpetrators wore a towel around his head. Turner regularly wore a towel on his head to hide a facial disfigurement that resulted from a suicide attempt.
After police discovered guns used in the crimes and a hockey mask, accomplice Paul M. Stewart confessed and received two consecutive life sentences. He testified against Turner in court.