Florida to execute man who killed two female co-workers with hammer

Bill Cotterell

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida man convicted of bludgeoning two women to death with a hammer and setting them on fire more than 26 years ago is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday.

Robert Lavern Henry, 55, was convicted of the November 1987 murder of co-workers Janet Cox Thermidor and Phyllis Harris.

The three worked at a Florida fabric store, where Henry, a custodian, attacked the women and stole $1,269 from the store in a staged robbery, according to testimony at the trial.

Henry initially admitted to bludgeoning the women and dousing them with a flammable liquid that set fire to the store. He later recanted on the witness stand, blaming unidentified robbers.

Harris, 53, died at the scene but Thermidor, 35, survived for several hours and was able to identify Henry to police.

Henry's execution is set for 6 p.m. EDT at the Florida State Prison in Starke.

Attorneys for Henry petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court this week to block his execution by challenging Florida's lethal injection method.

The state began using the sedative midazolam hydrochloride last year as the first of three lethal injection chemicals, after the manufacturer of the previous knockout drug, sodium pentobarbital, stopped selling it for use in executions.

In his appeals, Henry's attorneys claim he suffers from high blood pressure, arterial disease and a cholesterol condition that could produce painful results during the new injection procedure.

The lawyers contend that the Department of Corrections has not proved midazolam safely anesthetizes condemned prisoners, to prevent them from feeling the pain of two subsequent drugs that paralyze the body and stop the heart.

Henry's attorneys cited evidence provided by Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiology professor at the Emory University Medical School, who said Henry's personal condition "creates an imminent, substantial and objectively intolerable risk of serious harm" in reaction to midazolam.

"This court should intervene to ensure the proper application and burdens of proof in deciding Eighth Amendment rights in cases like those of the petitioner," the lawyers said in their Supreme Court petition.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids "cruel and unusual punishments."

Florida's Department of Corrections has maintained in court that the drug fully anesthetizes prisoners so they do not suffer when the second and third drugs are injected.

State and federal courts have rejected similar medical challenges to the use of midazolam in past Florida executions.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Gunna Dickson)