Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Florida's new lethal injection drug approved

A drug that Florida recently started using in executions does not subject inmates to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, a Florida judge ruled, according to Reuters.

The challenge to the use of midazolam hydrochloride, the first of three drugs used in Florida executions, now goes back to the state Supreme Court. In a sharply divided 5-2 ruling last week, the high court directed Judge Phyllis Rosier of Florida's Eighth Judicial Circuit to hold an evidentiary hearing on the effectiveness of the drug.

An attorney for Askari Abdullah Muhammad, previously known as Thomas Knight, won a stay of execution through at least December 27 with the medical challenge. He had been scheduled to die last month.

"No credible evidence has been presented to this court that shows midazolam as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida's protocol is ‘sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering,' or give rise to ‘sufficiently imminent dangers,'" Rosier wrote, citing a standard set by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Rosier said Dr. Mark Heath, a New York anesthesiologist testifying for Muhammad last week, had said midazolam would produce a deep state of unconsciousness at 10 or 15 milligrams. The execution method uses 500 milligrams.

News reports said William Happ, the first man executed with the new drug mix, showed some signs of movement and that it took longer for him to die. Heath "speculated that it could mean that Happ was not fully anesthetized when the second phase of the protocol was administered," Rosier wrote in her order.

But Dr. Lee Evans, testifying for the state, said Happ's movement did not prove that he felt anything. Rosier said Evans testified that midazolam "is faster acting than pentobarbital in inducing unconsciousness."

Pentobarbital was the drug previously used to put condemned prisoners to sleep. Its manufacturer has refused to supply it to states using it in executions so Florida switched to midazolam - executing two men with it so far. No other state has used the drug yet.

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