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Death Row lawyers challenge Florida's new execution drug

Tampa-based attorneys for a Florida Death Row inmate filed a legal challenge Tuesday to the use of what they call an "untested and unsuitable" new chemical used to sedate condemned prisoners at the start of a lethal injection. They say the new Florida drug, which was used in a U.S. execution for the first time two wweeks ago, could cause "unnecessary pain" during future executions and violate inmates' constitutional rights.

The new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, takes the place of pentobarbital, which prison officials say is no longer available. The new drug was used for the first time in the Oct. 15 execution of William Happ at Florida State Prison, who took longer than usual to lose consciousness, according to news reports cited in the legal arguments.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, attorneys for Death Row inmate Dane Patrick Abdool and several other inmates argue that the new drug could violate the inmates' Eighth Amendment constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. Two federal judges are scheduled to hear arguments on the matter Nov. 6.

More broadly, the lawsuit claims, Florida's continuing reliance on a three-drug lethal injection mixture is inhumane and "violates the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society encompassed in the Eighth Amendment." The other two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, are intended to induce paralysis and cardiac arrest.

The lawsuit was filed by Maria DeLiberato and Marie Louise Samuels-Parmer, both affiliated with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's office for the middle region, based in Tampa. 

-- Steve Bousquet