TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of a lethal-injection drug, an Orange County circuit judge Monday rejected a Death Row inmate’s attempt to block a planned Feb. 26 execution.
The Florida Supreme Court last week sent the case to the circuit judge to allow condemned killer Jerry William Correll to make arguments about the disputed drug, midazolam hydrochloride. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing the constitutionality of that drug in an Oklahoma case.
But Circuit Judge Jenifer Davis issued a five-page ruling Monday rejecting Correll’s arguments. She pointed to past Florida Supreme Court and federal-court decisions that upheld the use of midazolam hydrochloride as part of a three-drug execution process, known as a protocol.
“(The) Florida Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the protocol against constitutional challenges and held that the lethal injection protocol used in Florida does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, ‘that protocol is facially constitutional as a matter of law,’ ” she wrote, partially quoting from an earlier Florida Supreme Court ruling.
Correll filed an emergency petition with the Florida Supreme Court on Jan. 30 seeking a stay of his execution until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Oklahoma case. The U.S. Supreme Court, which has at least temporarily halted executions in Oklahoma, is considering arguments about whether midazolam hydrochloride does not effectively sedate inmates during the execution process and subjects them to pain that violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Florida and other states began using the sedative as the first step in a three-drug execution cocktail in 2013, after previously using a drug called pentobarbital sodium. The states switched because Danish-based manufacturer Lundbeck refused to sell pentobarbital sodium directly to corrections agencies for use in executions and ordered its distributors to also stop supplying the drug for lethal-injection purposes.
In its order last week sending Correll’s case to the circuit judge, the Florida Supreme Court gave Davis a Wednesday deadline to make a ruling and return the case to justices. Two justices, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, objected to sending the case to the circuit judge, saying Correll had not previously challenged the three-drug protocol and that the Supreme Court had already rejected challenges to the process. Davis’ ruling was posted on the Supreme Court website Monday afternoon.
Gov. Rick Scott last month signed a death warrant for Correll, who was convicted in the stabbing deaths of four people in 1985 in an Orlando home. The victims included Correll’s ex-wife, Susan, and their 5-year-old daughter, Tuesday. Also killed were Susan Correll’s mother, Mary Lou Hines, and her sister, Marybeth Jones.
In announcing the signing of the death warrant, the governor’s office said the women were each stabbed at least 14 times, and the child was stabbed 10 times. Correll, now 59, is on Death Row at Florida State Prison.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.