Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Judge Upholds Use of New Execution Drug

Stethoscope and gavel against a white backdrop.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Florida judge on Monday signed off on the use of a new drug the state is using in its executions. 

Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier from Bradford County ruled that the sedative midazolam hydrochloride does prevent pain when it is administered to condemned inmates during the lethal injection process.

Rosier made the ruling after holding a two-day evidentiary hearing that had been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. In a contentious 5-2 decision, the high court delayed an execution to consider questions about the new drug.

Askari Abdullah Muhammad, formerly known as Thomas Knight, was scheduled to be executed Dec. 3 for the killing of a prison guard while on death row.

The court delayed the execution until at least Dec. 27 after Knight's lawyers challenged the use of the new drug as an anesthetic and the entire mix of drugs used for lethal injections. The challenge contended the mix of drugs violated prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.

Florida has used midazolam in two executions: that of William Happ on Oct. 15 and that of Darius Kimbrough on Nov. 12. The state previously used pentobarbital to render prisoners unconscious before drugs that induce paralysis and cardiac arrest were administered.

In questioning the drug, Knight's lawyers had noted there were reports that Happ was seen moving his head from side to side after the first drug had been administered.

Rosier in her ruling stated that "no credible evidence" was presented during the two-day hearing to show that the new drug would cause any suffering or serious harm if administered in proper amounts. She wrote that even if Happ did move, there was nothing presented to her that showed his movement "equated to actual pain or suffering."

Knight, 62, has been on death row for nearly 40 years. He was convicted of fatally stabbing Corrections Officer Richard Burke with the sharpened end of a spoon in 1980.

Knight was originally condemned for the 1974 murders of Sidney and Lillian Gans of Miami Beach. He received two death sentences for their slayings. The death warrant Gov. Rick Scott signed last month was for Burke's murder.

The Supreme Court said use of the drug will be the only issue to be addressed in lower court hearings. The high court will then examine the findings and has scheduled arguments in the case for Dec. 18.