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Common Dreams

'Experimenting' on a Death Row Inmate: Florida to Execute Man by Untested Drug

Critics slam this as the latest inhumane development in a state that holds record for putting most innocent people on death row

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Fifty-one-year-old inmate William Happ is slated for execution in Florida on Tuesday using an experimental cocktail of drugs, despite widespread concerns that the injection could subject him to severe pain and thus 'cruel and unusual punishment' under the 8th ammendment.

Critics are slamming the planned execution as just the latest inhumane development in a state with staggering incarceration and execution rates. "Florida leads the nation in the number of people who have been released from death row because of mistakes," Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told Common Dreams. "This is yet another example of how out of step Florida is with the rest of the country."

The execution will be the first ever using midazolam hydrochloride, a drug typically used for sedation purposes. The first of three drugs to be injected, midazolam will replace the typically used barbiturate pentobarbital, which, according to Reuters, is aimed at inducing unconsciousness.

Several states that carry out executions have been running low on pentobarbital after its manufacturer banned its use for executions.

"This is somewhat of an experiment on a living human being," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, told Reuters on Monday.

"The three-drug process depends on the first drug rendering the inmate unconscious and, if he is only partially unconscious, the inmate could be experiencing extreme pain," Dieter stated. "Because the second drug paralyzes him, he would be unable to cry out or show that he's in pain."

Misty Cash, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, told Common Dreams, "Our commitment is to be sure that that process is done without unnecessary pain or suffering."

When asked to show evidence that the experimental drug does not cause unnecessary pain or suffering, she stated, "I am not going to comment on what evidence there is or what research is done." Asked repeatedly whether the public has the right to know on what evidence she is basing her claims, she replied, "No comment."

As Common Dreams previously reported, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Friday called off an execution planned for later this month using another experimental drug—propofol—following threats from the European Union that all shipments of the drug to the U.S. will be halted if it is used for executions.

Florida ranks second in the U.S. for executions this year, and Happs will be the sixth in the state in 2013. Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed the 'Timely Justice Act,' which was passed by the GOP-dominated state legislature, and is the most aggressive law in the country fast-tracking executions for inmates on death row.

This is despite the fact that Florida has the worst known track record in the U.S. for putting innocent people on death row.

Happs says he is abandoning attempts to appeal his execution. He is scheduled to die at 6:00 PM EDT.


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