"I just hope this brings some kind of peace to your family," Jermaine Herron told the man whose wife and son were killed. "I wish I could bring them back, but I can't. I hope my death brings peace. Don't hang on to the hate."
Herron then looked at his mother, who watched from a nearby window.
"Momma, stay strong," he said. "Lord, forgive me for my sins because here I come."
As the drugs began to take effect, Herron kept his eyes on his family. Three members of the victims' family braced their hands on each other's shoulders as they watched.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had rejected an appeal from Herron that claimed lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment. A last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was turned away too.
Also Wednesday, the Texas court voted 5-4 to lift a stay of execution it issued Monday for Derrick S. O'Brien, who had made a similar challenge. O'Brien had been scheduled to die Tuesday; a new execution date was to be set at a hearing in July.
Herron, 27, was convicted in the shooting deaths of Betsy Nutt, 41, and her 15-year-old son, Cody, at their home on a ranch in southern Texas.
Herron and a companion, Derrick Frazier, approached Nutt at her mobile home about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Refugio, saying they had car trouble and needed to make a phone call. Nutt and her son were fatally shot as they were about to give the two men a ride to town.
The men then used her truck to carry loot taken during a burglary from the house next door. The slain woman's cell phone and the murder weapon, a 9 mm handgun taken in the burglary, were recovered from the apartment of Herron's girlfriend.
Herron and Frazier were sentenced to death, but Frazier won a reprieve three weeks ago — just days before his scheduled execution after his lawyers contended a juror at his trial improperly communicated with Jerry Nutt, who lost his wife and son in the attack.
Jerry Nutt said he was frustrated and angered that Herron's execution might also have been delayed.
"I'll tell you what the cruel and unusual punishment is, it's the victims having to wait for justice," he said. "Watching him die looked very easy. He went peacefully. I just hope that the terror he felt in the last hour or two of his life was just a little bit of the terror that my son felt before he shot him in the head."
In O'Brien's case, four of the five judges who voted to lift the stay said in a concurring opinion that O'Brien did not offer evidence that the drugs used by the state could cause a painful death.
Death penalty critics have argued the painkiller sodium pentothal could wear off, causing pain before a second drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzes the inmate. The final drug is potassium chloride, which causes a fatal heart attack.
After the stay was issued Monday, O'Brien's lead attorney said it indicated the judges' willingness to put off executions in the nation's busiest death penalty state until the Supreme Court rules in a Florida case over the drugs used in lethal injections.
The judges, however, said they granted the stay only to allow sufficient time to look at the procedural aspects of the application and the merits of the claim.
O'Brien, 31, was sentenced to death for the 1993 torture slayings of two Houston teenage girls.
JUAN A. LOZANO