By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - A Florida man who confessed to the rape and murder of a child is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday, while another convicted murderer in Georgia had his death sentence, also due to be carried out on Thursday, commuted to life imprisonment.
Their cases follow a string of executions in the U.S. South last month, including those of two other men in Florida and Georgia, in the wake of a botched Oklahoma execution in April that sparked an uproar among death penalty opponents.
Florida's Eddie Wayne Davis, 45, was sentenced to death in Florida after he admitted to taking an 11-year-old girl from her mother’s home, sexually assaulting and strangling her in 1994.
Davis confessed three times to the murder of Kimberly Waters, who was found strangled in a dumpster. He was 25 years old at the time of her killing, but his defense team claimed that he was mentally still a juvenile.
The Georgia man, Tommy Lee Waldrip, was convicted of the 1991 shooting death of a man who had been scheduled to testify against his son in an armed robbery trial.
Waldrip, 68, shot Keith Evans, then beat him to death and set his truck on fire, according to trial testimony. Evans had worked as a clerk in the store Waldrip’s son had allegedly robbed.
Both Davis and Waldrip lost court appeals this week seeking to halt their executions. But the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday granted Waldrip clemency and commuted his death sentence to life without parole.
It was the fifth death sentence commuted by the Parole Board since 2002 and the first since April 2012.
The board typically does not cite reasons for its decisions. Age could have been a factor in the decision as Waldrip would have been the oldest person to be executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The Florida Supreme Court on Monday rejected Davis' claim that a metabolic blood disorder known as porphyria might cause him to have a painful reaction to midazolam, the first of three drugs used by the state in executing convicted killers.
Davis would be the seventh person executed in Florida this year, while Waldrip would have marked Georgia's second death row execution of 2014.
(Reporting by Bill Cotterell in Tallahassee, Fla. and David Beasley in Atlanta; Writing by Letitia Stein and David Adams; Editing by Eric Walsh)