John Ruthell Henry, who was convicted in the December 1985 murders of his estranged wife in Pasco County and her 5-year-old son in Hillsborough County, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday at Florida State Prison near Starke despite questions about Henry’s mental capacities.
Henry is the 18th inmate executed on Gov. Rick Scott’s watch. No other first-term governor has signed the execution warrants of so many inmates since Florida re-instituted the death penalty in 1976. Since then, the state has executed 87 inmates. One in five of those has been executed on Scott’s watch, in less than four years.
The Henry execution came after a last-minute appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Henry, 63, was convicted of killing Suzanne Henry, who was stabbed repeatedly in the throat with a kitchen knife after the two argued in her home over presents for her son Eugene Christian. Henry then took the boy to Hillsborough County. Nine hours later, Henry used the same knife to kill the boy. Juries in both counties sentenced Henry to death, though the death warrant for the execution referred only to the murder of Suzanne Henry.
The murders occurred three years after Henry was released on parole for the 1975 murder of his first wife. The execution came a day after a divided 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments that the execution should be halted because of questions about whether Henry was intellectually disabled. The arguments centered on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found Florida had improperly used a “rigid” IQ score of 70 in determining whether Death Row inmates are intellectually disabled, a term that has replaced mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled earlier that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are intellectually disabled.
Henry’s attorney pointed to a test that showed Henry’s IQ as 78 and suggested that the IQ could be as low as 73. But in a 2-1 decision, the federal appeals court said Henry did not provide adequate evidence that he might be intellectually disabled, with mental-health experts never expressing such an opinion. Also, the majority said the U.S. Supreme Court did not make its recent ruling, known as Hall v. Florida, retroactive to cases on what is known as “collateral” review.
Death Row inmate Eddie Wayne Davis, 45, is scheduled to be executed July 10. Davis was convicted in a Polk County case of kidnapping 11-year-old Kimberly Waters in March 1994, sexually assaulting and strangling her and leaving her body in a dumpster. Davis was a former boyfriend of Waters’ mother.
There are currently 397 people on Florida’s death row, including five women. Of the total, 233 are white, 149 are black. Twenty-three people have been freed from death row because of errors, wrong convictions and new evidence coming to light.
–FlaglerLive and the News Service of Florida