updated 8/31/2005 2:04:49 AM ET 2005-08-31T06:04:49

A man who beat his wife to death in 1989 after an argument at a bar was executed early Wednesday.

Timothy Johnston, 44, died by injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre, officials said.

Hours earlier, Johnston had received a brief reprieve when a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution. Johnston’s lawyer, Chris McGraugh, argued Missouri’s method of lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment.

The full appeals court later vacated the stay, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the execution. Gov. Matt Blunt also refused to intervene.

Johnston and his wife, Nancy, began arguing at a St. Louis bar on June 30, 1989. Former prosecutor Joseph Warzycki said Nancy Johnston became scared of her husband and went to the car to drive away.

Johnston jumped on top of the car and eventually pulled his wife from it, then kicked her repeatedly, Warzycki said. He took her home and beat her severely in front of her 11-year-old son.

He later called paramedics who arrived to find Nancy Johnston dead, her face and torso swollen and bloodied, Warzycki said.

Johnston initially blamed a motorcycle gang, but later confessed, accusing his wife of infidelities. He has expressed “considerable regret” over the crime, McGraugh said.

Johnston was the fourth Missouri inmate to be executed this year, and the 65th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1989.

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