By Timothy Mclaughlin
(Reuters) - Ohio put to death on Wednesday a 43-year-old man convicted of raping and killing a three-year-old child in what was the state's first execution in more than three years after a lengthy legal dispute over the choice of lethal injection drugs.
Ronald Phillips was pronounced dead at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville at 10:43 a.m. EDT (1443 GMT), the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in a statement.
The execution had been delayed multiple times as a court fight played out over the state's use of a drug mixture for lethal injections. The U.S. Supreme Court denied appeals from Phillips late on Tuesday.
Phillips in January 1993 was dating Fae Evans, the mother of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, when she left her daughter with Phillips in her apartment, according to court documents.
Fae Evans returned home to find the child motionless and cold. Sheila Marie Evans was brought to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery but died.
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Doctors performed an autopsy and found extensive bruising as well as internal trauma, court documents showed.
Phillips confessed that he had become enraged when the girl would not respond to him calling her for breakfast, court documents showed. Phillips beat and then sexually assaulted the toddler.
He also admitted to previously raping the girl twice, court documents showed.
Phillips had tried to "atone for his shameful role in Sheila's death," and had earned his certification to be a minister, his attorneys said in a statement on Wednesday.
Before the procedure began, Phillips apologized to members of the victim's family and he did not struggle after the lethal injection was administered, Alan Johnson, a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch who witnessed the execution, told reporters.
"God forgave him, but I'm sorry I don't think I can," Sheila Marie Evans' aunt, Donna Hudson said after the execution, according to local media.
Ohio's last execution took place in January 2014, when it became the first state to use a combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone to execute Dennis McGuire.
McGuire's execution took 25 minutes and witnesses said he gasped and convulsed for 15 minutes.
Ohio in 2015 implemented a moratorium on executions due to the difficulty in obtaining lethal injection drugs. The following year, the state said it would restart executions using a new drug protocol.
A federal court ruled in January that Ohio's new lethal injection process was problematic, delaying executions. A three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction in April, but that ruling was overturned in June by the full court.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; editing by Ben Klayman, G Crosse)