May 11 (Reuters) - A man who killed three people, including a sheriff's deputy, in a dispute over drugs was executed by lethal injection in Missouri on Wednesday night.
Earl Forrest, 66, was pronounced dead at 7:18 p.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O'Connell said.
Forrest killed an acquaintance, Harriet Smith, and a visitor at her house, Michael Wells, in a dispute over methamphetamine, on Dec. 9, 2002. He shot both of them in the face, within a range of a few inches, according to court records.
Forrest and his girlfriend then fled Smith's house in the southern Missouri town of Salem, taking with them a lockbox containing an estimated $25,000 of methamphetamine. Later, he got into a shootout with law enforcement and shot and killed sheriff's deputy Sharon Joann Barnes, according to the records.
"Missouri's law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day," state Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement. "They need to know that we will fight just as hard for justice for them and their families."
Forrest's appeals ran out on Wednesday. The U.S. Supreme court denied his application for a stay of execution, the only appeal that was pending in the courts. Earlier, Missouri's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, rejected his petition to have his sentence commuted to life in prison.
During Forrest's trial, the defense said he had problems with alcohol and methamphetamine and that long-term substance abuse had impaired his judgment.
The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence for each conviction because of aggravating factors, including that part of his motivation was to obtain drugs and that he killed an on-duty officer.
Missouri has executed 86 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, making it one of the most prolific among the 31 states that use capital punishment.
But in recent years, the state has seen few death penalties handed down by juries. There are 28 people on death row in Missouri, according to the Criminal Justice Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The rate of executions is falling steeply across the United States and even some conservatives are advocating for abolition of the death penalty.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney)