Two African-American men in different states are scheduled to receive lethal injections Wednesday — Missouri has already executed Earl Ringo Jr. at 12:22 a.m. local time, while Texas is set to execute 45-year-old Willie Trottie on Wednesday night.
The executions come on the heels of a North Carolina judge setting free two brothers, Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, who were convicted of rape and murder in 1984, after DNA evidence ruled out the possibility of their guilt.
McCollum was on death row while Brown, initially also on death row, was serving a life sentence for the 1983 rape and murder of Sabrina Buie, an 11-year-old African-American girl whose body was found in a soybean field with her underwear stuffed down her throat. Though there was no physical evidence tying them to the crime, police in the small town of Red Springs claimed McCollum, 19 at the time, and his half-brother Brown, 15 at the time, had confessed to the rape and murder. After five hours of intense questioning with no lawyer present and their mother weeping outside the interrogation room, the confession was written out in longhand by the police.
While many observers said the North Carolina case illustrated the riskiness of the death penalty, that certainly hasn’t slowed down Texas and Missouri.
Both Missouri and Texas have the busiest death chambers in the nation — after Wednesday, Missouri and Texas each will have executed eight people in 2014. Florida has carried out seven executions. Oklahoma has killed three, while Ohio, Arizona and Georgia have executed one each.
No other state besides those seven has executed anyone this year.
Ringo was killed after his conviction for murdering two people during the robbery of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant on July 4, 1998.
Ringo’s lawyers made the usual appeals, but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt the execution, as did a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. Defense attorney Richard Sindel questioned Missouri’s use of the sedative midazolam before executions, on the grounds that it might dull the inmate’s senses and leave him unable to express any pain.
In Texas, Trottie is being executed for killing his common-law wife and her brother during a gun battle at the family home in Houston in 1993. While Trottie’s lawyers contend that he did not receive adequate legal representation at his original trial and that the prosecution withheld a witness statement about his mental state that might have caused a jury to hand down only a life sentence, Texas officials are moving forward.
An African-American woman, Lisa Coleman, is also scheduled for execution in Texas on Sept. 17 for the 2004 intentional starvation death of her 9-year-old son.