Victim's mother scoffs as serial killer Bobby Joe Long seeks assurance of painless execution

Bobby Joe Long, 65, has spent more than three decades on Florida’s death row. [Florida Department of Corrections]
Bobby Joe Long, 65, has spent more than three decades on Florida’s death row. [Florida Department of Corrections]
Published May 3, 2019

TAMPA — Bobby Joe Long decided not to come to court Friday.

Having to wear chains for a three-hour journey to Tampa from his death watch cell at Florida State Prison was too torturous, he said.

So the notorious serial killer, who murdered eight women in the Tampa Bay area in the 1980s, listened via phone as lawyers argued over whether his imminent execution will cause him undue pain.

As Long listened, so did Lula Williams. Her daughter was Chanel Williams, one of the women Long murdered in 1984.

"It seems like he's enjoying what's going on," Williams said. "He inflicted pain on my daughter and the other victims. And he's worried about pain, what he's going to feel. No, that's not right."

Williams watched quietly from the courtroom's second row as a parade of doctors and pharmacists took the witness stand.

Their focus was etomidate, the first of three drugs in Florida's lethal injection protocol. It's intended to render Long unconscious before a second drug paralyzes him and a third stops his heart. His defense says he suffers from epilepsy and there is a risk that etomidate might induce a seizure.

At least one witness said that's unlikely.

Dr. Steve Yun, a California anesthesiologist, testified by video conference that etomidate is commonly used in medical procedures. A typical dose is 20 mg, which will render a patient unconscious within 30 seconds, he said.

Florida's lethal injection protocol calls for a dose of 200 mg, far more than any doctor would administer at one time. That alone is likely to kill Long.

"It will predictably produce a very reliable deep state of unconsciousness," Yun said. "That would certainly be a lethal dose if no other life saving measures were instituted."

The drug also suppresses the brain's electrical activity, eliminating the possibility of seizures, Yun said.

But another doctor, David Lubarsky, said the opposite. Not only is it possible that etomidate could cause a seizure, but its side effects include involuntary muscle movements, which could make it difficult for the execution team to determine if Long is unconscious. It could cause other problems, too, he said. The recipient could yank the intravenous line loose.

The law requires Long's defense to demonstrate that an alternative drug is available. His attorney Robert Norgard tried to do so when he questioned Stephen Whitfield, a pharmacist for the state Department of Corrections.

Norgard wanted to know whether he helped develop the current lethal injection protocol or any previous protocols and whether he was responsible for purchasing the execution drugs.

But prosecutors objected, citing state law that shields such information from public disclosure.

Whitfield did answer some questions Norgard asked about two other drugs — pentobarbital and fentanyl. He said the state is prohibited from purchasing pentobarbital by the drug's manufacturer, who doesn't want it used in executions. Other states get it from compounding pharmacies. He knew of no effort to obtain that drug or fentanyl by the state of Florida.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco will weigh the arguments before ruling Monday whether the execution can proceed.

During a lull in the proceedings, a windy noise broke the silence.

"Mr. Long, you're breathing very heavily into the phone," Judge Sisco said.

Long laughed.

"Sorry, I'll stop breathing," he said.

"Don't do that," the judge replied.

"Not yet," added Norgard.

Contact Dan Sullivan at Follow @TimesDan.