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Miami killer's execution delayed amid questions about new drug

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.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James Perry were in the majority. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice Charles Canady dissented.

-- Steve Bousquet

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