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Fla.'s new lethal injections OK, Miami judge rules

A Miami-Dade judge ruled on Wednesday against a Death Row inmate who had challenged the new use of a drug in Florida’s lethal injections.

Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola issued an order rejecting the argument made by lawyers for Manuel Valle that the state’s switch to pentobarbital, a barbiturate, in its three-drug lethal-injection cocktail could constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The defense had argued that the use of the drug as an anesthetic has not been extensively tested, and that inmates executed in other states that use the drug had appeared to suffer pain or discomfort before dying.

In her order, Scola ruled that it was not enough for the defense’s expert witness, an anesthesiologist, to testify that the consequences of using pentobarbital are unknown. Instead, the defense needed to prove that the drug caused substantial risk of harm. It did not do so, she wrote.

“[T]his court finds that usage of pentobarbital does not create an objectively unreasonable risk of suffering,” Scola wrote.

The ruling now heads to the Florida Supreme Court for review. The high court temporarily stayed Valle’s execution last week to allow so Scola could hold the hearing on the safety and efficacy of the drug. Valle’s execution is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Valle was sentenced to death by three different juries for shooting and killing Coral Gables Police Officer Louis Pena in 1978.