Alissa Camplin, Arts & Entertainment Editor
On Thursday, August 24, Florida made history by executing Mark Asay, a white man, for killing a black man. This is a state first. According to public records and the Death Penalty Information Center, at least 20 black men gave been executed for killing white victims since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1972.
Additionally, this is the first execution that has happened in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted the practice in early 2016 because it gave judges, rather than juries, the power of life or death. Since, Florida passed a law under Gov. Rick Scott that requires a unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty.
In Asay’s case, jurors recommended death for both murder counts by a 9-3 vote. Even though the new law requires unanimity, Florida’s high court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling did not apply to older cases.
Asay, 53, was convicted in 1988 of two radically-motivated murders that occurred on the same night. Asay was 23 at the time of the killings.
The first victim, Robert Lee Booker, was killed in 1987. He was a 34-year-old black male. Reports from CNN affiliate WJAX claim that Asay called Booker a disturbing racial epithet before fatally shooting him. During Asay’s final hours, he admitted to these racial slurs. However, Asay blames the murder on being, “drunk and angry, not a racist.”
Asay’s second murder was 26-year-old Robert McDowell, a mixed race (white and Hispanic) man. McDowell was dressed as a woman at the time of his killing. Asay agreed to pay McDowell for oral sex, but became enraged and murdered him when he learned McDowell’s true gender.
The execution protocol began at 6:10 p.m. and Asay was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m.
Asay received a new three-drug anesthetic. The first drug, etomidate, has never been used in the United States.
Etomidate induces sleep. About a minute after the administration of this drug, Asay’s feet jerked slightly and his mouth opened. This drug replaced the typically used midazolam, which has been abandoned over the fear that it causes unnecessary suffering.
The second drug, rocuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant that paralyzes the lungs. This drug made him motionless, which resulted in being declared dead by an on-site doctor.
The third drug, potassium acetate stops the heart entirely. It is Florida’s first time using potassium acetate as well, which was used in a 2015 execution in Oklahoma by mistake, but has not been used elsewhere, a death penalty expert said.
State corrections officials have defended the choice, saying it has been reviewed. The corrections department refused to answer questions from the Associated Press about how it chose etomidate.
Doctors hired by Asay’s attorneys raised questions about etomidate in court declarations, saying there are cases where it had caused pain along with involuntary writhing in patients.
But in its opinion allowing the drug to be used, the state’s high court said earlier this month that four expert witnesses demonstrated that Asay “is at small risk of mild to moderate pain.”
Not everyone agrees with the use of the death penalty. Amnesty International condemned Florida on Thursday: “It’s too late for Mark Asay, but Florida still has a chance to be on the right side of history by commuting the sentences of all other death row prisoners and ending capital punishment once and for all,” the statement said.
According to an interview with a local television station, Asay said that dying was better than spending the rest of his life behind bars.
“Because I pray, and I say, ‘I’ve had all of the prison I want.’ So I want out of prison, through the front door or the back,” he told News4Jax.
Asay was asked whether he wanted to make a final statement. “No sir, I do not. Thank you,” was his reply.