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Florida’s New Lethal Injection Combo Upheld

(CN) - Florida's new drug combination for lethal injection is not cruel or unusual, the 11th Circuit ruled, permitting a child-murderer's execution to proceed.

"Juan Carlos Chavez kidnapped a nine-year-old boy at gunpoint, anally raped him, verbally taunted and terrorized him, shot him to death, dismembered his body, discarded his body parts in three planters, and then filled those planters with concrete," the opinion begins.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed Chavez's death warrant in January 2013.

His execution was set for 6 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2014.

That day, a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based federal appeals court refused to stay the execution.

Chavez had claimed that Florida's new lethal injection protocol, which substitutes midazolam hydrochloride for pentobarbital as the first drug in the three-drug cocktail, would not effectively induce "a surgical plane of anesthesia" to prevent Chavez from experiencing the pain of asphyxiation.

The Florida Supreme Court also rejected Chavez's stay request.

Chavez was executed at 8 p.m. after a two-hour delay while the U.S. Supreme Court considered, but ultimately denied, a last-minute appeal.

Typically, the three-drug cocktail uses sodium thiopental as a sedative, but the drug's manufacturer stopped selling it to the United States in 2011 because of its use in capital punishment.

This scarcity came under scrutiny this month when Ohio executed Dennis McGuire using a new drug cocktail that had never been tried before in the U.S.

Despite concerns about the untried method, a court declined to halt the execution. McGuire took more than 20 minutes to die, during which he appeared to gasp and struggle for breath.

Ultimately Chavez failed to demonstrate that the use of midazolam in the 2013 Protocol creates a substantial risk of serious harm, Chief Judge Edward Carnes wrote for the the 11th Circuit panel, citing the District Court's "thorough and detailed credibility determinations and the extensive factual findings that flowed from them, including the court's finding that the 'massive dose [of midazolam] required by the Florida protocol ... will render the individual insensate to noxious stimuli by placing the individual in an anesthetic state, unable to discern pain.'"

Carnes also wrote a concurring opinion in which cited Chavez's failure to present the court with any adequate alternative to the 2013 protocol.

"Chavez has not come close to satisfying his burden of proving the existence of an 'available,' 'feasible,' and 'readily implemented' alternative to midazolam hydrochloride, let alone one that will significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain," the chief judge said.

The 8th Circuit similarly upheld Missouri's new legal injection protocol in January.

There was no report Chavez appeared to experience any pain at his execution.

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