TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The debate about the state’s current cocktail for lethal injections is headed back to the Florida Supreme Court, after a lower court judge ruled the drugs now being used would not violate a convicted murderer’s rights.
Askari Abdullah Muhammad, who was set to die Dec. 3, won a temporary reprieve from the Florida Supreme Court last week while the courts consider his challenge to the three-drug mixture that the state uses in executions.
Muhammad’s attorneys have argued that William Frederick Happ, who was executed last month using a new mix, was conscious for an unusually long time while being put to death and moved his head — showing that Muhammad might experience pain while being executed if the new combination is used.
Happ was executed using a combination of chemicals including midazolam hydrochloride — instead of the previously used pentobarbital sodium — as part of the cocktail. The drug, the first of three injections, renders the inmate unconscious.
But in a ruling Monday, Bradford County Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier said in a two-day hearing she held last week, that she was not convinced that the use of the drug would violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Rosier was tasked with taking a first look at the case, which will now be considered by the high court.
“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,” she wrote.
Rosier said Happ’s movement doesn’t prove that he was hurt.
“Additionally, even if Happ did move after the midazolam was administered during his execution, there is no evidence before this court that his movement equated to actual pain or suffering,” she wrote.
The case now goes back to the Supreme Court, which is set to hear oral arguments Dec. 18 if the justices choose to do so.
Muhammad, 62, was slated to be executed for stabbing corrections Officer Richard James Burke to death with a sharpened spoon in October 1980, while Muhammad was already on Death Row.
Muhammad, who was known at the time as Thomas Knight, was initially convicted of kidnapping and killing Sydney and Lillian Gans in 1974. He also escaped from the Dade County Jail while awaiting trial and was involved in a liquor store robbery in Cordele, Ga., where two clerks were shot, and one killed.
The new drug combination used by the Department of Corrections was prompted after Denmark-based manufacturer Lundbeck, which makes pentobarbital sodium, decided to refuse to sell the drug directly to corrections agencies for use in executions and ordered its distributors to also stop supplying the drug for lethal-injection purposes.
States have since been struggling to maintain stockpiles of pentobarbital sodium.
“The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.”