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Arizona executes man for 1987 Tucson-area killing

Thomas Paul West, shown in this undated Arizona Department of Corrections mug shot, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday, July 19, 2011, for beating another man to death in 1987, despite a flurry of last-minute appeals over a sedative used in a previous ex
Thomas Paul West, shown in this undated Arizona Department of Corrections mug shot, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday, July 19, 2011, for beating another man to death in 1987, despite a flurry of last-minute appeals over a sedative used in a previous execution and a challenge over who oversees the state's death penalty, among other issues.
Arizona Department of Corrections, Associated Press

FLORENCE, Ariz. — A death-row inmate was executed by injection Tuesday despite a flurry of last-minute appeals over a sedative used in a previous execution and a challenge over who oversees the state's death penalty.

Thomas Paul West, 52, was pronounced dead at the state prison in Florence at 11:10 a.m., about four minutes after he was declared sedated.

West's execution came 24 years after he beat Donald Bortle to death while robbing his home just outside Tucson. Bortle's decomposing body was found in a closet on July 17, 1987, covered in blood with his hands tied behind his back.

West fled Arizona but was arrested in Hodgkins, Ill., during a traffic stop soon after the crime. He had four boxes of Bortle's belongings, mostly electronic equipment.

West became the 91st inmate to be put to death in Arizona. The previous execution was that of Richard Lynn Bible on June 30 for the molestation and murder of a 9-year-old girl in Flagstaff.

When a curtain was pulled to reveal the execution chamber Tuesday, West lay strapped down to a table. He looked directly at his lawyers, nodded purposefully twice, then pointed to an area below his waist and then back toward himself again. He then held up two fingers.

Warden Carson McWilliams asked if West had any last words, and West ignored him, lying still on the table with his eyes closed. He breathed heavily when the sedative began and then appeared to fall asleep.

Prison officials said he declined to request a last meal.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a challenge of the state's lethal-injection law on behalf of four death-row inmates, including West, and denied an accompanying motion asking to delay West's execution.

The challenge argued that the state's injection law is unconstitutional because the Legislature gave unfettered discretion to the Corrections Department on how to conduct executions, violating the separation of branches of government.

The challenge cited an autopsy report that lawyers said indicated two different sedatives were used in the March execution of Eric John King, but the state's top death-penalty prosecutor said that only one sedative was used and that it turns into a different sedative once in the body.

Last month, the state Supreme Court denied a request by West to delay his execution after he argued that he had ineffective trial lawyers and that had he been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the time, he likely would have gotten a lesser sentence.

West also narrowly lost his pleas for mercy from Arizona's clemency board. It voted 3-2 Thursday to allow the execution.

Board member John LaSota appeared frustrated by the vote during the hearing.

"It isn't the sort of cold, calculated murder that is the worst of the worst," he said. "As this man sits here and as this crime occurred, he is not the sort of person the death penalty should be imposed upon."

Two psychologists spoke at the hearing about the toll that a rocky home life and years of sexual abuse by three different men took on West, saying that's why he turned to alcohol and drugs, worsening an already bad psychological state.

The experts said one of the symptoms of West's PTSD is a classic "startle response" and explains why he killed Bortle. West said he "freaked out" during the robbery when Bortle appeared in a hallway and began yelling at him.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay disagreed with that argument.

"What I do take issue with is the assumption that Mr. West acted in some sort of startled mode or rage reaction," he said, adding that Bortle did not have any wounds to his arms or hands indicating that he put up a fight during the beating. "What this tells me is that Mr. Bortle was not the one who snuck up on Mr. West. Mr. Bortle didn't see it coming."

Unklesbay said Bortle's wounds were so severe "the bones in his face were essentially a floating mask."

West himself spoke at the hearing, addressing board members from inside a locked metal cage about 10 feet away. He apologized repeatedly for the killing, and said he thought Bortle had survived the beating when he left his house.

"I did not realize I hurt him that bad," he said. "I thought he was up and walking around and safe by the time I got to the end of the block."

West also apologized to Bortle's son, David Bortle, who attended the hearing by phone.

"As ridiculous as it was and as hollow as it sounds, I really am sorry for your loss," West said.

David Bortle did not sound moved by West's apology, saying it was time for him to take responsibility for his choices.

"Mr. West is now begging for mercy but he showed my dad no mercy at all," he told the board, adding that he believes his father would have lived at least another 20 years. "Mr. West took those years away from our dad and our family, resulting in my dad missing the birth and life of his seven grandchildren."

West's attorneys argued at the hearing that West's father was verbally and physically abusive and that West was sexually abused by a teacher, a neighbor and a priest at various times in his childhood, leading to his recently diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. The priest has been convicted of abusing other boys, and the neighbor acknowledged abusing him.

West's older brother and aunt, who said she was more like a sister to him, attended the hearing and spoke emotionally about West's and their own abusive childhood.

"He hasn't ever got a break in his life," brother James West said. "He should get a break in his death."

West, who worked as a drywaller, grew up in Kankakee, Ill., and had only been living in Arizona a short time before the crime. He has a daughter.

Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP.

Online:

Arizona's death row: http://1.usa.gov/osOcN2