By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A man convicted of killing his former girlfriend and her two young children in 1993 and burying them in a shallow grave was executed on Tuesday in Oklahoma after an unsuccessful last-ditch challenge to the state's three-drug execution protocol.
Michael Hooper, 39, was convicted of driving his ex-girlfriend Cynthia Jarman and her children, Timothy, 3, and Tonya, 5, to a field where he shot each of them twice in the head and then buried them in December 1993.
Their bodies were found three days later. Police reports showed that Hooper and Jarman previously had been in a "physically violent relationship," the state attorney general's office said.
Hooper, who was the fourth person executed in Oklahoma this year and the 27th in the nation, was pronounced dead at 6:14 p.m. local time at the state prison in McAlester, a prison spokesman said.
Hooper was first sentenced to death in 1995, but a federal appeals court overturned the sentence seven years later, ruling that his counsel had been ineffective. He waived his right to be sentenced by a jury at a new hearing. A judge re-imposed the death sentence in 2004.
Hooper had waived his right to appear before the state pardons and parole board, but last week attempted to block his execution by challenging the three-drug protocol used to execute condemned killers in Oklahoma.
He had contended that the protocol used had the potential to cause great pain and was unconstitutional. A federal judge in Oklahoma City and a federal appeals court rejected his challenge.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma was down to one dose of pentobarbital, one of three drugs the state uses to execute condemned inmates. It obtained 20 more doses since then, state prison spokesman Jerry Massie said.
The family members of Hooper's three victims released a statement that extended their condolences to Hooper's family.
"This has been a long, arduous journey for all of the families," the statement said. "Tonya, Timmy and Cindy will always be in our hearts and our minds. They will forever be missed and loved deeply."
Hooper requested a variety of fruit along with cranberry juice and coffee for his last meal, Massie said.
"I just want to thank God for such an excellent sendoff," Hooper said before the execution. "Also, my family, for standing by me throughout all this. I appreciate their being there for me through the hardships."
Hooper also asked for forgiveness "for all those that need it - you know who you are."
"I ask that my spirit be released directly into the hands of Jesus and I'm ready to go. I love you all."
(Reporting by Steve Olafson; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)