A Mississippi man was put to death Wednesday evening for killing two men in a December 1995 robbery spree after the courts declined to stop the execution based on arguments that the inmate was mentally ill at the time.
Edwin Hart Turner, 38, died at 7:21 p.m. EST after receiving a chemical injection at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, authorities said.
Turner was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry, who were slain at two gas stations a few miles apart that were targeted by Turner and another armed friend in a spree that netted them about $400.
Brooks was shot to death first while working at one of the gas stations and Curry at the other while pumping gas when the pair went there next, toting rifles. Turner's accomplice testified against him and was sentenced to life in prison.
Wearing a red prison jumpsuit as he lay strapped on a gurney, Turner said, "No" when asked if he had a last statement. When the lethal chemicals began flowing, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and appeared to fall asleep.
The sister and a cousin of victim Eddie Brooks watched the execution. The brother and son of his other victim, Everett Curry, also did.
One of Curry's other brothers read a family statement afterward.
"I don't think we will ever have complete closure because a void will always exist in our hearts," said Roy Curry, who did not watch the execution. "At least we will have some consolation in knowing that the person who committed this cowardly and senseless act is finally gone."
Turner had requested that none of his family watch the execution, though his attorney and a pastor were present.
There was little dispute that Turner killed the two men while robbing gas stations, then went home and had a meal of shrimp and cinnamon rolls before going to sleep.
But his lawyers had tried to block the execution in various state and federal courts based on the argument that Turner was mentally ill at the time of the crimes. The lawyers had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would outlaw executions of the mentally ill as it has done with people considered mentally retarded.
The nation's highest court allowed the execution to go forward Wednesday when it rejected petitions to stop it. Earlier in the day, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant had refused to grant a reprieve, saying after a review of the case, "I have decided not to grant clemency for his violent acts."
Turner's lawyers had argued in the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that he inherited a serious mental illness. They argued that his father is thought to have committed suicide by shooting a gun into a shed filled with dynamite and his grandmother and great-grandmother both spent time in the state mental hospital.
Turner's attorneys say he was severely disfigured during a suicide attempt at 18 by putting a rifle in his mouth and pulling the trigger. He had been released from a mental hospital just weeks before killing the two men, his lawyers said.
Attorney General Jim Hood has said recently that Turner's mental health claims had been "fully addressed."
Richard Bourke, director of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center that represented Turner, said after the execution in an emailed statement that he lamented the "tragic and senseless" killings. He also said Mississippi's mental health care system failed Turner, describing him as "a seriously mentally ill and tortured man" with no criminal history before those slayings.
Bourke's statement added Mississippi was among a handful of states that provide the least protection for the seriously mentally ill in their criminal justice systems.
"This needs to change. At the very least, seriously mentally ill offenders whose illness contributed directly to their crimes should not be subjected to the death penalty," the statement added.