Miami killer Thomas Knight slated for Dec. 3 execution

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Miami killer Thomas Knight, one of Florida’s longest-serving prisoners on Death Row, will be executed Dec. 3 at 6 p.m., the governor’s office said Monday.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant for Knight for the 1980 fatal stabbing of state corrections officer Richard Burke.

When he killed Burke, Knight was awaiting execution for the 1974 murders of Bay Harbor Island’s Sydney and Lillian Gans.

Only two inmates have been on Death Row longer than Knight, 62. His death warrant was signed one month after a federal appeals court in Atlanta restored his death sentence in the Gans murders.

Although the warrant was signed for the Burke murders, Gans relatives will likely be allowed to attend the execution at the Florida State Prison in Starke. Knight will be executed via lethal injection.

Gans, a successful paper-bag company owner, had hired Knight, a parolee, in 1974. Ten days later, Knight kidnapped him and Lillian at rifle-point, forcing Gans to go to a downtown Miami bank to withdraw $50,000.

Afterward, FBI agents covertly tracked Knight and the two hostages to a secluded wooded area at Southwest 132nd Street and 117th Avenue, where Knight shot each of them with a bullet to the neck. Officers later found Knight, who had buried himself in mud, along with the money and his rifle.

While awaiting trial, Knight escaped from the Dade County Jail and was involved in a fatal robbery before his capture. A jury convicted Knight of the Gans murders in 1975. A judge sent him to Death Row.

While there in October 1980, Knight thrust a sharpened spoon into the chest of corrections officer Burke, 48. The reason: the prison would not let Knight see his mother, who was making her first visit.

Then-Gov. Bob Graham signed his death warrant for the Gans murders. The execution was set for March 3, 1981.

The prison system’s superintendent later remembered Knight’s reaction to the news: “How can you execute me when I haven’t even had my trial yet about killing the guard?”

A federal judge later stayed the execution. Jurors in 1983 convicted Knight of Burke’s murder.

His convictions have been bogged down in the legal system.

In 1987, a federal appeals court threw out the Gans death sentence, ruling that Knight should have been allowed to present character and background witnesses during a penalty hearing. He was again sentenced to death in 1996.

But then late last year, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled Knight’s constitutional right to confront and cross-examine witnesses had been violated at the 1996 sentencing.

But the U.S. 11th District Court of Appeals last month disagreed and restored the death sentence.

“To learn about the gridlock and inefficiency of death penalty litigation, look no further than this appeal,” the opinion said.

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