Florida executes inmate using unproven sedative
The state of Florida on Thursday executed its first death row inmate in nearly two years, using a lethal injection cocktail that had never been tried before in the United States.
Mark Asay, 53, was sentenced to death in 1988 for a racially motivated double murder in Jacksonville, Florida a year earlier.
The execution was carried out at 6:22 pm, the Florida Department of Corrections said.
For his last meal, Asay ordered fried pork chops, fried ham, fries, vanilla swirl ice cream and Coca-Cola, authorities said. He did not make a final statement.
Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court denied a stay of execution for Asay, who had challenged the state's plan to employ a lethal injection cocktail that includes etomidate, an anesthetic never before used in carrying out an execution in the US.
It replaces another drug, midazolam, which has been the subject of significant legal wrangling.
According to critics, midazolam does not always adequately sedate prisoners, therefore subjecting them to excessive suffering.
Corrections department spokeswoman Ashley Cook told AFP the department "follows the law and carries out the sentence of the court."
"This is the department's most solemn duty and the foremost objective of the lethal injection procedure is a humane and dignified process," Cook said.
Asay was the first prisoner to be executed in Florida since January 2016, before the state's supreme court ruled that Florida executions were unconstitutional because judges were granted powers that should be reserved for juries.
He also was the first white man convicted of killing a black man to be executed in the state since Florida reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
Since then, the state has executed 92 inmates -- 20 of them black inmates who had at least one white victim. Fifty-four others were white inmates who had white victims, according to DPIC data.
Prosecutors say Asay fatally shot Robert Lee Booker, an African American, after making racist remarks.
He killed his other victim, Robert McDowell, who has been identified as white and Hispanic and was apparently dressed as a woman, after making a deal to pay him for sex.
Difficult to administer
Janssen, a pharmaceutical division of the company Johnson & Johnson, developed etomidate and has objected to its use in executions.
"Janssen discovers and develops medical innovations to save and enhance lives," spokesman Greg Panico told The Washington Post.
"We do not condone the use of our medicines in lethal injections for capital punishment."
Etomidate is difficult to administer and can cause severe irritation and burns if used incorrectly, warned Jonathan Groner, a professor of surgery at Ohio State University who is against the death penalty.
Groner said administering the drug particularly "hurts when it's being injected if the veins are damaged -- and a lot of people on death row have damaged veins because they're either old or they have an IV drug abuse history."