Miami-Dade County

He stabbed a woman to death. Four days before his execution, justices gave him a stay

Florida’s execution chamber is at Florida State Prison in Starke.
Florida’s execution chamber is at Florida State Prison in Starke. Department of Corrections

The Florida Supreme Court has halted Tuesday’s scheduled execution of Death Row inmate Jose Antonio Jimenez, convicted of killing a 63-year-old woman nearly 26 years ago in Miami-Dade County.

A unanimous order by the court, issued Friday evening, did not give a reason for granting the stay of execution, requested by Jimenez’s lawyer, Marty McClain.

Gov. Rick Scott in July ordered Jimenez, 54, put to death by lethal injection. The execution would have been the state’s first since February, when Eric Branch, convicted of raping and killing a college student, was put to death.

Branch reportedly screamed after being injected with the anesthetic etomidate, the first of the state’s triple-drug lethal injection protocol. Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady later told reporters “there was no indication” Branch’s screaming was caused by the anesthetic.

In a motion for a stay of execution filed this week, McClain raised several issues, including the fact that he had discovered 80 pages of records related to the investigation into the Oct. 2, 1992, death of Phyllis Minas that the North Miami Police Department had not previously provided to Jimenez’s lawyers.

McClain was first given access to all the records — more than 1,000 pages — on July 30, just two weeks before the scheduled execution of his client, who maintains his innocence.

The records include pages of handwritten notes made by investigators identified as detectives Ojeda and Diecidue, who interviewed Jimenez following his arrest three days after Minas was killed, according to court documents. The records contradict the detectives’ testimony in Jimenez’s case, according to McClain.

“Mr. Jimenez has found, to his mind, surprising and downright shocking information contained in the previously unseen notes,” McClain wrote in a five-page motion filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. “It appears that the notes of Detective Ojeda, the lead investigator, and Detective Diecidue if not lied, endeavored to deceive when they were deposed by Mr. Jimenez’s trial counsel.”

McClain wrote that he had made the discovery within the past 10 days.

“And counsel is frnatical (sic) trying to piece these notes together and understand what occurred while the clock ticks down on Mr. Jimenez’s life,” McClain wrote.

The notes “show that Ojeda and Diecidue were willing (to) give false and/or misleading deposition testimony in order to facilitate Mr. Jimenez’s conviction,” McClain wrote in the eight-page amendment to the motion seeking to vacate his client’s judgment and sentence.

“The new documents show dishonest cops, and the conviction is premised on Ojeda telling the truth,” McClain told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Friday evening.

Jimenez was convicted in 1994 of stabbing Minas to death in her North Miami apartment two years earlier. Minas worked as a clerk at the Richard Gerstein Justice Building. Jimenez, who lived in the same building a floor above Minas, was a high school dropout with a cocaine habit, according to testimony at the trial. Minas was stabbed eight times and bled to death on her kitchen floor. Prosecutors said it appeared Minas had caught Jimenez in her apartment, rummaging through her things.

In the motion seeking a stay, McClain also raised the issue of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, known as Bucklew v. Precythe, which could have an impact on arguments about whether Florida’s lethal-injection protocol is unconstitutional.

The Missouri case deals with a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Glossip v. Gross, that focused on lethal injection protocols. That ruling requires prisoners challenging lethal injection procedures to establish that “any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and viable alternative method of execution.”

“… (I)t is clear that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to revisit and clarify the analysis to be used in a challenge to a method of execution. For that reason, a stay of execution would be more than appropriate in this case just as it was in Correll,” McClain wrote, referring to Jerry Correll, who was put to death by lethal injection in 2015 in the first execution after the Supreme Court signed off on the use of the drug midazolam, which has now been replaced by etomidate in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court’s order Friday set a schedule for briefs to be filed by McClain and the state, ending with an Aug. 28 deadline for reply briefs to be filed. “Oral argument, if necessary, will be scheduled at a later date,” the order said.

McClain said he did not know the basis of the court’s indefinite stay.

“But the fact that it’s until further order of the court, and it was unanimous, there’s something up, but I don’t know what it is,” he said.

McClain said that an expert in a separate lethal-injection case had testified that the use of etomidate could result in screams about 25 percent of the time. The state has used the drug four times, and Branch was the only inmate who screamed, according to McClain.

“Is it OK to have your condemned people scream 25 percent of the time? Are we comfortable with that? And what about the torture to those who are next, who know that 25 percent of the time people are in pain and screaming? Are they going to be the one? And even if they’re not, is it going to be torture for them to be aware of that?” he said.