Judge upholds use of new execution drug in Florida

Lawyers questioned use of Midazolam hydrochloride

By Monica Whitsel - Producer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A Florida judge has signed off on a questionable new drug the state uses in executions. 

A two-day evidentiary hearing led to a 5-2 decision to question the sedative midazolam hydrochloride. 

An execution was delayed pending the examination into the new execution drug. Governor Rick Scott scheduled Askari Abdullah Muhammad, formerly known as Thomas Knight, to be executed December 3. He's been on death row since the nearly 40 years. He was on death row for two other murders when he killed a prison guard landing him another death warrant.

The 5-2 decision forced Muhammad's execution to be delayed until Dec. 27.

Muhammad's lawyers challenged the drug midazolam hydrochloride. The lawyers said the use of the drug, as anesthetic, mixed with the rest of the lethal injections violated prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment. 

The state has used midazolam hydrochloride twice this year. Authorities used it Oct. 15 on William Happ and Nov. 12 on Darius Kimbrough. 

During the hearing Muhammad's lawyers brought reports stating Happ's head was moving after be injected with the new drug but before authorities administered the drugs for inducing cardiac arrest and paralysis.

Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier of Bradford County ruled the new drug does prevent pain during the lethal injection process.

Rosier stated there wasn't enough credible evidence to show the new drug causes pain. She also said the evidence doesn't suggest Happ suffered any pain. 

Before using midazolam hydrochloride used pentobarbital. The drug would knock the prisoners unconscious before the authorities administered the drugs to induce paralysis and cardiac arrest. 

Muhammad was convicted in the 1980 killing of Corrections Officer Richard Burke. Authorities say he stabbed Burke with a sharpened end of a spoon. 

At the time he was on death row for the 1974 murders of Miami Beach's Sidney and Lillian Gans. His scheduled death warrant for Dec. 3 (now Dec. 27) was for Burke's murder.

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