A Florida man who killed a couple in the woods in 1974 and later murdered a prison guard is set to be executed Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. via lethal injection after nearly 40 years on death row.
Askari Abdullah Muhammad, 62, formerly known as Thomas Knight, was originally sentenced to death after being convicted of the murders of Sydney and Lillian Gans in 1975, the Miami Herald reports. While on death row in 1980, Muhammad fatally stabbed corrections officer Richard Burke, 42, with a sharpened spoon because the prison guard would not permit Muhammad to see his visiting mother.
In 1974, Muhammad -- then known as Knight -- was hired by Sydney Gans to work for his paper bag company. Just 10 days into his new job, Knight kidnapped Gans and his wife from their home in Miami and made Gans withdraw $50,000 from the bank. According to reports, authorities who were notified of the abduction trailed Knight but eventually lost track of the car. Knight drove to a remote, wooded area in Miami-Dade and then shot the victims in their necks.
Years of court appeals halted Muhammad’s original execution date of March 3, 1981. “How can you execute me when I haven’t even had my trial yet about killing the guard?” Knight said, the prison’s superintendent later recalled, according to the Miami Herald. (He was eventually convicted of the murder.)
In 1987, a federal court threw out his execution sentence, because he hadn't been allowed to put character and background witnesses on the stand during the penalty phase, the Associated Press reports.
Muhammad was once again re-sentenced to the death penalty in 1996, but the decision was reversed in 2012 because a judge ruled that he had not properly cross-examined witnesses during a hearing. After the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and reinstated the death penalty, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant for Muhammad's execution, a CBS Miami/AP report notes.
“It’s a shame for the family that had to live through this nightmare for so many years," retired Miami-Dade homicide detective Greg Smith, who worked on the case and will attend the execution, told the Miami Herald. “Forty years is a lifetime for the sons and daughters who were close to the Gans family and the officer from the Florida State Prison.”