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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Nov. 28, 201312:00 PM EST

Execution drugs head back to Supreme Court


A case that could decide how Death Row inmates are executed is headed back to the Florida Supreme Court after a Bradford County judge ruled that the state's current cocktail for lethal injections would not violate a convicted murderer's rights.

Askari Abdullah Muhammad, who was set to die Tuesday, 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 this week, Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier said a two-day hearing she held last week didn't convince her 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.

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.

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