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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida can use new drug in inmate executions, judge rules



The state successfully defended its new execution drug in court on Monday, reports Bill Cotterell of the Florida Current:

Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier, who held an evidentiary hearing ordered by the Florida Supreme Court last week, ruled that midazolam hydrochloride is not just sufficient to render condemned killers incapable of feeling pain -- it could kill them itself, in high enough doses. The drug is used as the first of three in execution, an anesthetic followed by a paralytic chemical and then a heart-stopping drug.

The state previously used pentobarbital as the first drug in the execution “protocol,” but the manufacturer of that drug cut off supplies to states using it in executions. Other states also plan to switch to midazolam but have not yet used it.

Askari Abdullah Muhammad, previously known as Thomas Knight, had been scheduled to die on Tuesday but the Florida Supreme Court last week stayed his execution through at least Dec. 27 and ordered Rosier to hold an evidentiary hearing. She did so last week, hearing from a doctor on each side of the issue.

“No credible evidence has been presented to this court that shows midazolam as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida’s protocol is ‘sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering,’ or give rise to ‘sufficiently imminent dangers,’” Rosier wrote, citing a standard set by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The ruling said Dr. Mark Heath, a New York anesthesiologist testifying for Muhammad last week, had said midazolam would produce a deep state of unconsciousness at 10 or 15 milligrams. The execution method uses 500 milligrams.

News reports said William Happ, the first man executed with midazolam as the first drug in the mix, showed some signs of movement. Rosier’s order said Heath “speculated that it could mean that Happ was not fully anesthetized when the second phase of the protocol was administred.”

Dr. Lee Evans, testifying for the state, said Happ’s movement did not prove that he felt anything. Rosier said Evans testified that midazolam “is faster acting than pentobarbital in inducing unconsciousness.”

“There is no dispute that the dosage amount used in Florida’s protocol is such that it would induce not only unconsciousness when properly administered, but also respiratory arrest and ultimately death,” the judge wrote.

Muhammad was convicted of abducting, robbing and killing a former employer and his wife, Sydney and Lilliam Gans, in 1974 in Miami. While on death row, he killed prison guard Richard James Burke in 1980. Gov. Rick Scott recently signed his death warrant for the correctional officer’s murder.

[Last modified: Monday, November 25, 2013 8:08pm]


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