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No end yet to lethal injection drug hearing

A hearing that began Thursday morning on the new use of an anesthetic drug in Florida’s legal injections will continue next week, after a Miami judge decided that scientists for both sides should testify in person and via video conference on Tuesday.

The hearing stems from the case of Manuel Valle, sentenced to death for shooting and killing Coral Gables Police Officer Louis Pena in 1978. Valle’s execution, initially set for Aug. 2, was temporarily stayed by the Florida Supreme Court on Monday until Sept. 1, pending a hearing on the safety and efficacy of the drug in question, pentobarbital.

The defense’s expert witness on the drug was unable to be in Miami before Tuesday, when the judge was scheduled to be on vacation. The prosecution’s expert could have testified by phone Thursday, but Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola — apparently postponing her vacation — said she would be more comfortable seeing the witness’s face by video to establish his credibility. That expert will testify Tuesday, too.

A quiet but alert Valle, 61, appeared in court Thursday, handcuffed, carrying a bulky file and wearing orange-and-blue prison garb and thick glasses that slid down his nose.

He turned occasionally to look at family members seated in the courtroom and spoke only halfway through the proceedings, when his lawyer told the judge Valle preferred to go back to Florida State Prison in Starke than to sit through the remainder of the hearing through Tuesday.