The fate of a man scheduled to be executed for shooting and killing a Coral Gables police officer 33 years ago rests on the answer to one question: Is the new use of a drug in Florida’s lethal injections effective and safe?
On Sept. 1, 61-year-old Manuel Valle is set to become the first Death Row inmate executed in Florida using a three-drug cocktail that includes the barbiturate pentobarbital.
The state quietly changed its lethal injection protocol in June to use pentobarbital after the company that manufactured the original drug, sodium thiopental, discontinued its production.
The pentobarbital is intended to knock inmates unconscious. A second drug paralyzes them, and a third stops their heart.
On Tuesday, a Miami judge heard expert testimony from two doctors arguing whether using pentobarbital causes inmates enough pain to constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
A handful of states, including Alabama, Delaware and Georgia , have already carried out recent executions using the drug — in at least one case after the courts rejected the cruel and unusual punishment claims. But no pentobarbital execution has been done in Florida, which last executed an inmate in February 2010, before the drug switch.