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Mississippi executes man for murder of four people

By Leigh Coleman

BILOXI, Miss (Reuters) - Mississippi corrections officials on Tuesday executed a man convicted in the 1998 slayings of four people, the first inmate in the state to be put to death using a new drug as part of the lethal injection.

Benny Joe Stevens was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. local time at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth.

Thursday would have been his 53rd birthday.

He was executed with the drug pentobarbital, a sedative often used to euthanize animals, because of a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental.

Several states have switched to pentobarbital due to the shortage, and Texas and South Carolina used the drug to carry out executions last week.

Stevens was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murders of his ex-wife, her husband and two children in Foxworth, Mississippi.

He also received a 20-year prison sentence for the aggravated assault of his daughter, who was shot in the back and then watched Stevens shoot her mother.

After the fatal shootings, Stevens returned to his home and his current wife asked what he had done.

"I just killed a family," he said, according to the corrections department.

On Tuesday, Stevens visited with his parents, brother, sister-in-law, spiritual advisors and attorneys.

For his last meal, he requested four fried catfish, eight hushpuppies, French fries, coleslaw, hickory-smoked barbecue beef ribs, hot peach cobbler, a half-gallon of Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream, two 20-ounce Cokes, ketchup and a sliced red tomato, the corrections department said.

The department said Stevens had an upbeat attitude and was "very talkative" during the day.

However, he did not make a final statement, Booth said.

There are 59 inmates on death row in Mississippi, according to state prison records.

Stevens was the 15th person executed in the United States so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In 2010, 46 people were executed in the United States, six fewer than the previous year.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)

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