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Georgia executes man for 1978 rape and murder

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia on Thursday executed by lethal injection a man convicted of raping and murdering a 78-year-old Savannah woman.

Roy Blankenship, 55, was sentenced to death for the 1978 murder of Sarah Mims Bowen, who died of heart failure after she was raped and beaten in her apartment.

He was pronounced dead at 8:37 p.m. local time, said Kristen Stancil, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections. He did not make a final statement.

It was the state's first execution using a new sedative, pentobarbital, in place of sodium thiopental.

In March, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized Georgia's supply of sodium thiopental, which attorneys for several death row inmates said Georgia had improperly imported from England.

Hospira Inc. of Illinois, the only U.S. company that manufactured sodium thiopental, said in January it would stop making the drug after Italy, where it planned to move production, objected because the European Union has banned the death penalty.

Several states have either run out of supplies of sodium thiopental or switched to pentobarbital, a barbiturate often used to euthanize animals.

The Georgia Supreme Court late Thursday unanimously rejected Blankenship's last-minute request for a stay, including his claim that using pentobarbital in the execution would cause undue pain and suffering.

Blankenship did not request a last meal and was offered the prison's normal food but declined to eat it, Stancil said.

Georgia now has executed 50 men since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Blankenship was the 27th inmate put to death by lethal injection in Georgia, which has 100 men and one woman on death row.

Blankenship was the 24th person executed in the United States this year. There were 46 executions in 2010.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)

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