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November 18, 2013

Florida Supreme Court delays execution to hear about new drug used in injection protocol

Concerns about new lethal injection drugs has bought at least a few more weeks of life for a Florida death row defendant.  This Miami Herald update, headlined "Miami killer's execution delayed amid questions about new drug," explains:

In a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday ordered that Thomas Knight's scheduled execution be delayed so he can argue that a new drug used to anesthetize a prisoner at the start of a lethal injection could subject him to "serious harm."  Knight, also known as Askari Abdullah Muhammad, had been scheduled to die at Florida State Prison on Dec. 3.

Florida is the only state in the U.S. that uses midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the first stage of a three-drug lethal injection mixture.  The new drug replaced pentobarbital after the state Department of Corrections exhausted its supply.

The state's high court stayed Knight's execution until at least Dec. 27 and sent his case back the state's Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Bradford County, where he is imprisoned. A circuit court judge must hold a hearing on the inmate's claims and issue a ruling no later than 2 p.m. Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving, after which time both sides can file additional arguments.

Knight has been on Death Row since 1975 for the murders of a Miami couple. While in prison he stabbed a correctional officer, Richard Burke, to death.  It is that killing for which he is condemned to die.

In its order, the court said: "The Court has determined that Muhammad’s claim as to the use of midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida’s protocol warrants an evidentiary hearing. We conclude based on the allegations in Muhammad’s 3.851 motion that he has raised a factual dispute, not conclusively refuted, as to whether the use of midazolam hydrochloride in Florida’s lethal injection protocol will subject him to a 'substantial risk of serious harm.'

"We further direct the DOC (Department of Corrections) to produce correspondence and documents it has received from the manufacturer of midazolam hydrochloride concerning the drug’s use in executions or otherwise, including those addressing any safety and efficacy issues," the court ordered.

November 18, 2013 at 05:55 PM | Permalink


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"We conclude based on the allegations in Muhammad’s 3.851 motion that he has raised a factual dispute, not conclusively refuted, as to whether the use of midazolam hydrochloride in Florida’s lethal injection protocol will subject him to a 'substantial risk of serious harm.'"

Is this from the Onion? The WHOLE POINT of an execution is to cause the killer the most serious harm possible.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 18, 2013 6:20:58 PM

I am interested in learning what anesthesia knowledge these judges have. What is it they can decide, given their status as lawyers? If one of them had a surgical procedure, the judges themselves should be made to testify about its benefits.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 18, 2013 10:50:55 PM

weak court--the amount of the drug that will knock out the criminal is a matter of science. Don't know why a judge can't figure it out.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 19, 2013 12:40:49 AM

As I've said several times before on similar threads, the complicated issues related to using anesthetic agents is in making sure the recipient survives. That's the reason anesthesiologists require so much specialized training.

As for the specific order to the DOC to produce correspondence with the manufacturer I would be amazed if there was any. The FDA information would have everything the DOC would need in order to calculate a lethal dose.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 19, 2013 1:45:44 AM

The factual question is whether the dosage set forth in the new protocol is enough to render the rest of the procedure painless. If it is inadequate, that is a simple thing to remedy by increasing the dosage amount to make it adequate. It appears from the newspaper summary that there were competing "expert" opinions as to that dosage and the trial court denied the complaint without taking testimony from the experts. So I can see the basis for the remand.

However, from the quotation, it appears that the Florida Supreme Court is slightly misstating the Baze standard so I am wondering if they are being/have been sloppy or have found that the Florida Constitution requires more that the federal constitution.

Ultimately, these challenges to the new protocols designed to replace the embargoed chemicals with locally-produced chemicals will end with some protocol being approved by the courts. Since many of the states dealing with these challenges have a significant number of inmates who have exhausted all challenges to the merits of their sentences, you would have to anticipate that in three to four years the number of executions will pick up dramatically.

Posted by: tmm | Nov 19, 2013 9:40:53 AM

// “Knight has been on Death Row since 1975” \\ Thanks, capital defense lawyers.

Wouldn’t want to rush things..due diligence and all that.
An innocent life’s at stake.

New 2013 appeals: Thanks again capital defense lawyers.

Posted by: Adamakis | Nov 19, 2013 12:59:34 PM

File under :: No good deed goes unpunished/Scumbags murderers have earned execution/When will there be justice for Muhammad’s growing list of victims?

Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant Monday for Askari Abdullah Muhammad — formerly known as Thomas Knight.
He was convicted of fatally stabbing Corrections Officer Richard Burke…Knight was originally condemned for the
1974 murders of Sidney and Lillian Gans of Miami Beach. He received two death sentences for their slayings.

Knight killed the couple execution-style .. Two months later, while awaiting trial, Knight escaped from the
Dade County Jail .. Knight and an accomplice robbed a liquor store in Cordele, Ga., shooting two clerks,
killing one of them [William Culpepper].

Knight worked for Sidney Gans, who owned a paper-bag plant and made it a practice to give ex-cons a second chance by hiring them. Knight abducted Gans
from the company’s executive parking lot and, armed with a rifle, forced Gans to drive home, where they picked up Gans’ wife ..

Posted by: Adamakis | Nov 19, 2013 1:23:32 PM

I suggest the new tort of negligent certiori if the condemned kills again. The victims should be able to sue the judges as individuals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 19, 2013 3:21:52 PM

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