CRIME

Alabama executes man for '94 killing of fast-food workers

A man convicted of killing three people during the 1994 robbery of an Alabama fast-food restaurant was put to death Thursday by lethal injection.

Robert Melson, 46, was pronounced dead at 10:27 p.m. CDT Thursday at a southwest Alabama prison, authorities said. The execution was the state's second of the year.

State prosecutors said Melson and another man who used to work at the restaurant, robbed a Popeye's in Gadsden, 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Birmingham. They said Melson opened fire on four employees in the restaurant's freezer. Nathaniel Baker, Tamika Collins and Darrell Collier were killed.

The surviving employee, Bryant Archer, crawled for help and was able to identify one of the robbers as the former worker. While he could not identify Melson, prosecutors said Melson told police he had been with the former employee that night. A shoeprint behind the store matched Melson's shoes, they said.

Melson's attorneys had filed a flurry of last-minute appeals seeking to stay the execution. The filings centered on Alabama's use of the sedative midazolam which some states have turned to as other lethal injection drugs became difficult to obtain.

Midazolam is supposed to prevent inmates from feeling pain before other drugs are given to stop their lungs and heart, but several executions in which inmates lurched or coughed have raised questions about its use. An inmate in Alabama coughed and heaved for the first 13 minutes of an execution held in December.

Melson's attorney argued that midazolam does not anesthetize an inmate, but they might look still, because a second drug, a paralytic, prevents them from moving.

"Alabama's execution protocol is an illusion. It creates the illusion of a peaceful death when in truth, it is anything but," Melson's attorneys wrote in the filing to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The Alabama attorney general's office argued midazolam's use has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and it has allowed multiple executions to proceed using the drug, including the execution of an Alabama inmate last month.

"The State, the victims' families, and the surviving victim in this case have waited long enough for justice to be delivered," the attorney general's office wrote in a court filing as they urged the courts to let the execution proceed.