Fordham Law


Florida's New Execution Procedure Considered Too "Cruel" for Use on Animals

Deborah W. Denno in The Miami New Times, October 15, 2013

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Florida's New Execution Procedure Considered Too "Cruel" for Use on Animals
By Terrence McCoy Tue., Oct. 15 2013

William Happ, who's spent the past 27 years on death row for raping and killing 21-year-old Lauderdale Lakes woman Angie Crowley in 1986, will be the first person to experience a new execution serum that, across the nation, only Florida has been willing to use.

The drug, called midazolam hydrochloride, will be the first of a triumvirate of serums pumped into Happ, who has abandoned all of his appeals and said he's willing to die. The Florida Department of Corrections has changed serums in light of a nationwide shortage of the traditional pentobarbital sodium. Its manufacturer, a Danish company called Lundbeck, has stopped sending the drug to prisons where executions occur.

No one is quite sure if the new drug, which should put Happ under, will work as promised. And therein lies the rub, because if the drug doesn't work, the second serum dumped into him -- to induce paralysis -- will make it impossible for him to express discomfort or pain.

But Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Misty Cash expressed little concern. "We believe this protocol is the most humane and dignified way of carrying out the rule of the state," she told Riptide. "We only have a limited supplies of the old drug, and they'll expire in November, so we had to come up with a new protocol."

She declined to elaborate on how that decision was made. "We're not going to get into a discussion of how or why it was chosen," Cash said.

Normally, the drug, commercially known as Versed, is used to treat seizures and severe insomnia. It possesses hypnotic, anticonvulsant, and sedative properties.

Others have expressed profound reservations about the new procedure. Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University, told the Gainsville Sun the same procedure couldn't even be used to euthanize animals. "Vet standards are very strict," she said. "It would be considered cruel."

She added, "You are not seeing other states do this. Florida is acting alone. When states act alone in this, that's a risky venture."

Indeed, many states with capital punishment refuse to use more than one drug during an execution because there's too much chance for error. "If you're not anesthetized, it would be a worse way [to die] than electrocution and other methods."

Happ is set to die today at 6 p.m.