Florida Execution: Man Dies for 1974 Double Murder, 1980 Fatal Stabbing

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Wednesday, 08 Jan 2014 12:34 PM

By Ken Mandel

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A Florida man was executed Tuesday for a 1974 double murder and the fatal stabbing of a prison guard in 1980.

Inmate Askari Abdullah Muhammad, 62, was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m. after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, the governor's office announced. He had spent nearly 40 years on death row.

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Formerly known as Thomas Knight, Muhammad originally received the death penalty after his conviction for killing Sydney and Lillian Gans, according to The Miami Herald. While on death row in 1980, he stabbed and killed 42-year-old Corrections Officer Richard Burke with a spoon after he was prohibited from seeing his visiting mother.

"This is where my dad took his last breath," Carolyn Burke Thompson, daughter of the guard, told The Associated Press. "The system finally has worked. I am at peace knowing I don't have to wait any longer. I miss my dad a lot." 

Tuesday's execution was specifically for Burke's killing. Muhammad's four sisters visited Monday and a friend stopped by Tuesday. He declined to make a statement before being put to death.

It took 40 years because of many appeals and rulings. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear final appeals, but dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer said he would've granted a stay to hear Muhammad's assertions that it may be unconstitutional to execute an inmate after such a long time on death row. His original execution date was March 3, 1981, according to The Huffington Post. 

In the original crime, Muhammad was employed by Gans at a paper bag company, when he abducted him at gunpoint from the business parking lot. He forced Gans to pick up his wife from home, then drove to a bank. While Muhammad held Lillian Gans hostage in the back seat of the car, he ordered 64-year-old Sydney to withdraw $50,000.

Gans returned with the money, but had alerted the bank manager, who then alerted authorities, according to The Miami Herald.

The surviving relatives of the Ganses were invited to attend the execution. Their daughter, Harriet Shapiro, 73, declined due to her ailing health, her son Judd Shapiro told the Herald Monday.

"It's been so many times now, she's beginning to lose faith in the system," Judd Shapiro said of the delays and court battles over many years.

In October, William Happ was put to death for the 1986 strangulation murder of Angie Crowley. Florida is one of 32 states in which the death penalty is employed. Last month, the Death Penalty Information Center said in its annual report that executions declined in 2013, as fewer states imposed death sentences. The number of states with the death penalty also dropped, and public support for capital punishment fell to 40-year low, according to the report. 

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