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Missouri executes triple murderer after stay is lifted

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - After a nearly day-long delay amid a flurry of final appeals, Missouri put to death a triple murderer who had claimed both that he was innocent and that he suffered from mental incompetence.

John Middleton, 54, was given a lethal injection and pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m. CST, according to Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O'Connell.

Middleton had been scheduled to die by lethal injection shortly after midnight on Wednesday at a state prison in Bonne Terre but the execution was called off after a late-night stay of execution granted by U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry.

She ruled that Middleton met a standard for mental incapacity and should be given a chance for a new hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute inmates with mental disabilities.

That stay was lifted Wednesday morning by an appellate court but Perry again issued a stay and the matter went back to the appellate court and to the Missouri Supreme Court, both of which ordered that the execution could proceed. The U.S. Supreme Court also refused to issue a stay and the execution began at 6:58 p.m. local time, prison officials said.

Middleton is a former methamphetamine dealer who was convicted of the 1995 murders of three people who had ties to the drug trade and who prosecutors said Middleton feared would inform on him to police.

Apart from claims of mental incapacity, Middleton's lawyers had also argued that new evidence showed Middleton was innocent of the killings of Randy Hamilton, Stacey Hodge and Alfred Pinegar in the summer of 1995.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Middleton's claims were not valid and justice was done.

“Twenty years ago, John Middleton murdered three people out of fear they would expose him as the drug dealer he was," Koster said in a statement. "He received the death penalty for each of his three murders. This evening, Mr. Middleton paid the ultimate price for his choices.”

(This story was refiled to remove extraneous word in paragraph 4)

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Bill Trott, Jim Loney and Eric Walsh)

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