December 24, 2013
Askari Abdullah Muhammad, a/k/a Thomas Knight, is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm EST, on January 7, 2014, at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida. Sixty-two-year-old Askari is convicted of murdering correctional officer Richard James Burke while on death row for the murders of Sydney and Lillian Gans. Askari has spent the past 38 years of his life on Florida’s death row.
Askari was scheduled to be executed in December of 2013, however, the execution was stayed by a 5-2 vote of the FloridaSupreme Court over concerns about Florida’s new lethal injection protocol. Florida’s execution protocol recently switched from using pentobarbital to midazolam hydrochloride as the first drug of the three-drug cocktail used in executions. Since the switch, two inmates have been executed. Each execution using midazolam hydrochloride has taken approximately twice as long as previous executions with pentobarbital. In Askari’s appeal, he alleges that the dosage of midazolam hydrochloride was insufficient, leading to pain when the third and final drug is administered, however, the second drug is a paralytic, which means the inmate would not be able to verbalize any pain felt. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the use of midazolam hydrochloride is effective and permissible to use in executions.
Sydney Gans owned a paper bag company and often hire parolees looking for a second chance. Askari Muhammad, who was then legally known as Thomas Knight, was one of those parolees. Knight had worked for Sydney for 10 days when, on July 17, 1974, Knight ambushed Sydney as he was exiting his Mercedes Benz at work.
Knight ordered Sydney to get back into his car and to drive to pick up his wife, Lillian. Knight then ordered Sydney to drive to the bank and withdraw $50,000 in cash. Sydney went inside to retrieve the money, but also informed the bank president that he and his wife were being held hostage. The bank president informed the police and the FBI. Out of fear for his wife, Sydney returned to the car with the money.
After retrieving the money, Knight ordered Sydney to drive to a secluded area on the outskirts of Miami. Plainclothes police officers followed in unmarked cars. A helicopter and a small fixed wing surveillance airplane were also used. Police officers lost sight of the car for approximately five minutes, during which time Knight shot and killed Sydney and Lillian.
When police found the car, they saw Knight running away from the car with an automatic rifle. Lillian was dead behind the steering wheel, shot in the neck. Sydney was found 25 feet from the car, also shot in the neck. Knight was apprehended approximately 2,000 feet from the car, four hours later. Knight had covered himself in mud and lied on top of the $50,000 and the automatic rifle. He had bloodstains on his pants.
In September of 1974, Knight escaped from prison, along with other inmates. For 101 days, Knight evaded police. During that time, Knight killed a liquor store clerk in Cordele, Georgia. Knight was finally arrested in a shack on New Smyrna Beach in December of 1974. Knight was convicted by a jury in 1975 for the murders of Sydney and Lillian Gans and sentenced to die.
In October of 1980, Knight killed correctional officer Richard James Burke with a sharpened spoon. Knight’s reason was that they would not let him see his mother, who had come for a visit.
In 1981, Knight was given his first execution date. It was stayed so that he could stand trial for the murder of Richard Burke. He received a second death sentence in January of 1983.
In 1987, a federal appeals court threw out the death sentence for the murder of Sydney and Lillian Gans. The court reasoned that Knight should have been allowed to present character and background witnesses during his penalty hearing.
Knight’s resentencing hearing was held in 9 years later, in 1996, under heavy security. In the intermittent years, Knight had changed his name to Askari Abdullah Muhammad and grown a beard. Muhammad was disruptive during the trial, cursing daily and exclaiming “Allah Akbar!” or “God is great!” in Arabic. Muhammad was so disruptive, he could not remain in the courtroom. Once again, a jury recommended, and the judge agreed, that Muhammad be given the death penalty.
The death warrant for Muhammad’s January 7, 2014, execution refers only to the murder of Richard Burke.
Please pray for peace for the families of Richard Burke and Sydney and Lillian Gans. Please pray for the peace and strength for the family of Askari Muhammad. Please pray that Muhammad find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already found one.