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By James Queally and Ryan Parker, Los Angeles Times

A Missouri man convicted in the rape and murder of a 24-year-old woman was executed at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay and Gov. Jay Nixon rejected his plea for clemency, according to statements.

Michael Worthington, who was convicted in the 1995 slaying of Melinda Griffin, was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 12:11 a.m., according to Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

“Mindy Griffin’s parents waited for nearly two decades for justice for their daughter,” state Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement after the execution. “She was just 24-years old, finishing the final year of her studies at UMSL (University of Missouri, St. Louis) when her promising life was cut short. Tonight, Michael Worthington paid the price for his callous brutality.”

Nixon denied Worthington’s request for clemency Tuesday night, shortly after the Supreme Court denied his request for a stay of execution in a 5-4 decision.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan would have stayed his execution, court filings show.

“There is no question about the brutality of this crime — or doubt of Michael Worthington’s guilt. Melinda ‘Mindy’ Griffin, only 24 years old, was viciously raped and killed in her own home by Worthington,” Nixon wrote in a statement. “DNA evidence and his possession of items stolen from her home reinforced his confession and guilty pleas to murder, rape and burglary.”

But the razor-thin denial from the Supreme Court suggests a growing divide over the use of lethal injection to kill death row inmates. In recent years, it has become harder for states to acquire phenobarbital, the paralytic used in lethal injections.

That trend has forced states to turn to a new cocktail of drugs, and several executions have been stayed in recent months as inmates sue to receive more information about the chemicals that will be used in executions.

Last month, convicted murderer Joseph Wood had to receive 15 doses of a lethal cocktail in Arizona, gasping and struggling several times during an execution that lasted nearly two hours.

The execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma also lasted an unusual amount of time, and there were reports he writhed and gasped for air. Lockett also had to receive multiple injections.

Photo: Ken Piorkowski via Flickr

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