Florida court rejects drug argument, clears way for execution

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2011 1:49 PM
Florida court rejects drug argument, clears way for execution

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (Reuters) - The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the execution of a man convicted in the 1978 killing of a police officer, rejecting arguments a new anesthetic used to put condemned inmates to death would cause undue pain and suffering.

The court had temporarily halted Manuel Valle's execution last month after his attorneys argued the state's use of pentobarbital in its three-drug lethal injection cocktail might not render Valle unconscious, thus subjecting him to significant pain when the other two drugs were administered.

The court's 44-page opinion lifts the stay and also clears the way for future executions.

The justices unanimously ruled there had been no credible evidence offered to show that administering pentobarbital at 10 times the highest normal sedation dosage would not render Valle unconscious.

Even a medical expert brought in by Valle's attorneys could not testify that such a massive dose would not work, the court noted.

"By asserting that no evidence exists concerning whether pentobarbital will render an inmate unconscious, Valle has failed to meet his burden of proof," the court said.

Valle's execution would be the first in Florida since the state, following the lead of several others, replaced sodium thiopental with pentobarbital in its lethal injection cocktail.

Similar challenges elsewhere to pentobarbital, often used to euthanize animals, have generally failed to succeed.

By itself, the drug is considered lethal at the 5,000 mg dose administered by the Florida Department of Corrections. It is followed by other medications that paralyze the lungs and cause a heart attack.

A spokesman for Governor Rick Scott said a new execution date has not been set.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)