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Florida Executes Man Who Killed S. Florida Couple & Guard

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South Florida Crime

STARKE (CBSMiami/AP) — A man convicted of abducting and killing a Miami couple in 1974 and later stabbing a prison guard to death was executed at Florida State Prison, just one day after the Florida Supreme Court denied a stay of execution.

Askari Abdullah Muhammad, previously known as Thomas Knight, was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday following a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, the governor’s office said.

The 62-year-old inmate was initially condemned to die for the 1974 abduction and killings of Sydney and Lillian Gans of Miami. Tuesday’s execution was specifically for his conviction in the 1980 killing of corrections officer Richard Burke.

Muhammad was visited by his four sisters Monday and earlier Tuesday by a friend.

His execution was delayed for so long by numerous appeals and rulings, including a 1987 federal appeals court tossing out his original death sentence because he hadn’t been allowed to put character and background witnesses on the stand during the penalty phase.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his final appeals, but Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissent he would have granted a stay to hear Muhammad’s claims that it may be unconstitutional to execute an inmate after such a long time on death row.

Court documents show that Muhammad fatally stabbed Burke as he was being escorted to the prison shower. The inmate had become upset, the documents say, because he was told he couldn’t see a visitor unless he shaved his full beard. The documents added he had been overheard by guards to remark that “it looks like I’ll have to start sticking people.”

In the earlier slayings, Muhammed had worked for Gans at a paper bag company before abducting him in the business parking lot with a rifle. He ordered Gans to drive home, pick up his wife and then head to a bank to withdraw $50,000.

Cover page (page 1 section letter A) of the FINAL edition of The Miami Herald issue published Thursday, July 18, 1974 in Miami, Florida. Features DADE COUPLE KIDNAPPED AND SHOT TO DEATH; SUSPECT CAPTURED AFTER TEAR GAS BARRAGE; THEIR PLANS FOR VACATION IN EUROPE WERE ENDED BY KIDNAPER'S BULLETS; with associated photograph "Captors put slaying suspect Thomas Knight, 23, into Police Car," by TIM CHAPMAN/Miami Herald Staff

Cover page (page 1 section letter A) of the FINAL edition of The Miami Herald issue published Thursday, July 18, 1974 in Miami, Florida. Features DADE COUPLE KIDNAPPED AND SHOT TO DEATH; SUSPECT CAPTURED AFTER TEAR GAS BARRAGE; THEIR PLANS FOR VACATION IN EUROPE WERE ENDED BY KIDNAPER’S BULLETS; with associated photograph “Captors put slaying suspect Thomas Knight, 23, into Police Car,” by TIM CHAPMAN/Miami Herald Staff

Inside the bank, Gans asked a manager to alert authorities. Both the FBI and police were able to follow the car for a while, including use of aircraft, but lost track of it for a short time in a rural part of southern Miami-Dade County. Trial testimony showed that’s when Muhammed shot the couple and tried to hide by burying himself, the rifle and the money in mud and weeds.

Muhammed was found soon after and arrested. While awaiting trial, he and 10 other inmates escaped from jail, leading to a nationwide manhunt including a top 10 fugitives listing by the FBI.

Authorities say Muhammed was involved after his escape in the fatal October 1974 shooting of a liquor store clerk during an armed robbery in Cordele, Ga., that wounded a second clerk. He was never tried in that case.

The FBI finally arrested Muhammad on New Year’s Eve in 1974 in Florida. In his possession, authorities said, were three stolen weapons: a sawed-off shotgun, a revolver and a handgun.

Muhammad converted to Islam in prison, changing his name from Knight. During his 1996 resentencing, he cursed at the judge and lawyers and yelled “Allahu Akbar!” — “God is great” in Arabic.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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