Florida high court delays execution of Miami killer

Thomas Knight
Thomas Knight


The Florida Supreme Court on Monday delayed the execution of Miami killer Thomas Knight after his lawyers raised concerns about a new drug being used to lethally inject inmates.

Knight had been scheduled to die Dec. 3 for the 1980 fatal stabbing of state corrections officer Richard Burke. At the time, Knight already was on Death Row awaiting execution for the 1974 murders of Sydney and Lillian Gans of Bay Harbor Islands.

Only two inmates have been on Death Row longer than Knight, 62.

The state’s high court on Monday ordered a Bradford County judge to hold a hearing on whether the Valium-like sedative midazolam hydrochloride is safe and effective in ensuring an inmate won’t feel pain before two other drugs are used to induce paralysis and cardiac arrest.

The execution cannot be held before Dec. 27, justices ruled.

Two federal judges earlier this month dismissed lawsuits by a group of death row inmates who maintain the use of the drug constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The dismissal was based on legal technicalities, and the judges gave the inmates’ lawyers more time to file amended lawsuits.

So far, two inmates have been executed since Oct. 15 using the new drug. State corrections officials previously used pentobarbital to sedate inmates.

Sydney Gans, a successful paper-bag company owner, had hired Knight, a parolee, in 1974. Ten days later, Knight kidnapped Gans and his wife 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.

He killed Burke in October 1980, using a sharpened spoon to stab the officer in the chest.

Knight’s convictions have been bogged down in the legal system for decades.

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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