Rejecting arguments about newly discovered evidence and the state’s lethal-injection method, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday lifted a stay of execution for a Death Row inmate convicted in a 1992 murder in Miami-Dade County.
Justices, in a 53-page majority opinion, ruled against inmate Jose Antonio Jimenez, who was convicted in the killing of 63-year-old Phyllis Minas, whose neighbors heard her shout, “Oh God! Oh my God!” during the attack, according to court documents.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant in July and scheduled Jimenez’s execution for Aug. 14. But the Supreme Court on Aug. 10 issued a stay of execution while it considered the case. It was not immediately clear Thursday when Scott might reschedule the execution, with a spokeswoman saying the governor’s office was reviewing the new opinion.
Jimenez’s attorneys raised several issues at the Supreme Court, including that 81 pages of investigatory and trial-preparation materials that had been recently disclosed by the North Miami Police Department constituted “newly discovered evidence” in the case. They argued that Jimenez’s legal rights had been violated because the records were not turned over earlier and that, as a result, his conviction and sentence should be overturned or that he should receive an evidentiary hearing.
But the Supreme Court unanimously rejected those arguments, providing a detailed analysis of the disputed records and the legal standards.
Jimenez’s attorneys also raised arguments that the use of the drug etomidate as the first step in the lethal-injection process risked violating the Eighth Amendment constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Etomidate, which induces unconsciousness, has been used in four other Florida executions as part of a three-drug process.
Jimenez cited a February execution of Death Row inmate Eric Branch, who was convicted in the 1993 murder of a University of West Florida student. Branch reportedly screamed and made body movements as he was being executed.
But a majority of the Supreme Court turned down Jimenez’s arguments about the potential risks of using the drug and said the court had “fully considered and approved of the current lethal injection procedure” before the 2017 execution of inmate Mark Asay.
“In sum, Jimenez’s speculative and conclusory allegations regarding Branch’s execution are insufficient to require revisiting our holding in (the Asay case) approving the constitutionality of lethal injection as currently administered in Florida over the challenge that the use of etomidate as the first drug in the lethal injection protocol presents a substantial risk of serious harm,” the opinion said.
Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson fully agreed on the lethal-injection part of the opinion. Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the result of the opinion, though it was not clear whether he agreed with the reasoning on the lethal-injection issue.
Justice Barbara Pariente, in a dissent joined by Justice Peggy Quince on the lethal-injection part of the opinion, argued that Jimenez should receive an evidentiary hearing on the execution method. Pariente pointed to “new and troubling” information from the Branch execution.
“In my view, this new information makes it impossible to allow another execution to proceed without thoroughly reviewing whether Florida’s lethal injection protocol subjects defendants to a substantial risk of pain, in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Pariente wrote. “Thus, I would reverse and remand for an evidentiary hearing.”
Jimenez, now 54, was convicted of killing Minas during a burglary. Neighbors tried to enter the home through an unlocked front door after hearing Minas’ cries, but Jimenez slammed the door shut, locked it and fled by going onto a bedroom balcony, according to court documents.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida