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Condemned Man Seeks Stay As Execution Drug Challenged

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - A Death Row inmate Friday asked the Florida Supreme Court to at least temporarily block his scheduled Feb. 26 execution while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to a key drug used in lethal injections.

Attorneys for condemned killer Jerry William Correll filed an emergency petition seeking a stay until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in an Oklahoma case. The federal court will consider the constitutionality of a sedative that is the first drug administered during a three-step process used to execute inmates in Oklahoma, Florida and other states.

Critics argue that the drug, midazolam, does not effectively sedate inmates during the execution process and subjects them to pain that violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"While the harm to Correll would be great if a stay is not granted, Florida, in comparison, will suffer little appreciable harm,'' the petition filed Friday said. "If a stay is granted, the only potential harm to Florida is that it will have to wait on the Supreme Court of the United States before it can carry out the execution. That delay is a temporary harm compared to the irreparable harm of permitting an unconstitutional execution to take place. Simply stated, Correll implores this court to just pause until the controversy as to the use of midazolam is resolved, thus ensuring that if he is executed his death sentence would be administered in the most humane manner."

The petition came two days after Orange County Circuit Judge Jenifer M. Davis rejected a request to stay Correll's execution.

"The Florida Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the current lethal injection protocol against constitutional challenges and held that the protocol used in Florida does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment,'' Davis wrote. "This court concludes that it is bound by the foregoing precedential authority, and therefore Mr. Correll does not have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits" of the issues in the request for the stay.

Gov. Rick Scott on Jan. 16 signed a death warrant for Correll, who was convicted in the stabbing deaths of four people in 1985 in an Orlando home. The victims included Correll's ex-wife, Susan, and their 5-year-old daughter, Tuesday. Also killed were Susan Correll's mother, Mary Lou Hines, and her sister, Marybeth Jones.

In announcing the signing of the death warrant, the governor's office said the women were each stabbed at least 14 times, and the child was stabbed 10 times. Jerry Correll, now 59, is on Death Row at Florida State Prison.

After Scott signed the death warrant, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed last Friday to take up the Oklahoma challenge to the lethal-injection drug. The federal court followed up Wednesday by granting a request to stay executions in Oklahoma until the challenge is resolved.

Florida began using midazolam as the first step in a three-drug execution cocktail in 2013, after it and other states previously used a drug called pentobarbital sodium. The states switched because Danish-based manufacturer Lundbeck refused to sell pentobarbital sodium directly to corrections agencies for use in executions and ordered its distributors to also stop supplying the drug for lethal-injection purposes.

This report is by Jim Saunders with The News Service of Florida.

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