WASHINGTON - Two death row inmates were executed overnight Tuesday in Georgia and Missouri after the US Supreme Court gave the go-ahead.
Lawyers for the two pleaded for stays of execution up to the last minute. The deaths by lethal injection were the last scheduled for this year.
They took the total to 35, compared to 39 last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The first of them, Robert Wayne Holsey, 49, was declared dead at 10:51 (0351 GMT Wednesday), said Susan Megahee, spokeswoman for the prison system in Georgia.
Holsey was a black man executed for the death of a white policeman in 1995 amid racial protests over police brutality against young blacks.
The second man, Paul Goodwin, 48, was declared dead at 1:25 am Wednesday (0725 GMT) in Bonne Terre, said Mike O'Connell, spokesman for the prison system in Missouri.
Missouri governor Jay Nixon refused to commute his sentence. Goodwin was convicted of killing a 63-year-old widow in 1998 with a hammer after trying to assault her sexually.
It was the 10th execution this year in Missouri, which tied Texas for the most in 2014.
It was Georgia's second this year. Defence lawyers had pointed in vain to their client's mental incapacity and his troubled childhood, during which he was severely beaten and humiliated by his mother.
Lawyer Brian Kammer said Holsey had been misrepresented during his trial because his attorney then, he said, was a chronic alcoholic who insulted blacks and had been jailed for fraud. This lawyer had never cited his client's attenuating circumstances to try to save him from capital punishment.
These last executions of 2014 came as a new campaign against the death penalty was launched on grounds it smacked of racism.
The campaign was launched by organisations including Amnesty International.
"The practice of government-sponsored execution has no place in any civilized criminal justice system," said the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers.
"No one knows better than defence lawyers that the criminal justice system is fallible. It is rife with human error at every stage, and it perpetuates racial and ethnic disparity," said its director Norman Reimer.