Mark James Asay, 53, was convicted of murdering two people in Jacksonville, Florida several decades ago. According to court documents, Asay uttered a racial comment at the first man, Robert Lee Booker, 34, who was African American, before killing him. He was sentenced to death by a jury vote of nine to three in 1988. Asay was denied a new trial in 2016 and was executed by a new three-drug lethal injection protocol on Thursday evening.
The execution stands out for two reasons — it marks the first time Florida has executed a Caucasian prisoner for killing an African American since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, and it was also the first time an individual was executed by a new three-drug protocol which includes etomidate, a replacement for midazolam. Midazolam has been known to cause excessively prolonged and painful injections. Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, manufacturers etomidate and a company spokesperson has stated J&J adamantly objects to its use in lethal injection.
Asay’s attorneys had also objected to the use of etomidate, but the Florida Supreme Court denied their request, stating, “Asay failed to establish sure or very likely risks of sufficiently imminent danger or a proposed alternative that is readily available.” Basically, because the use of etomidate in lethal injection was so new, there was no proof of imminent danger and Asay’s attorneys didn’t present a viable second option to the three-drug concoction.
“’The Florida Department of Corrections follows the law and carries out the sentence of the court,” Michelle Glady, the Florida Department of Corrections’ spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is the Department’s most solemn duty and the foremost objective with the lethal injection procedure is a humane and dignified process.”
Booker’s son, Vittorio, was 15 at the time of his father’s death. “I was in shock. I was in disbelief. I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. He knew well the racial prejudices that existed into the 1960s, during Rev. Martin Luther King’s time. But, it was hard for him to understand that his father passed due to racial issues in the late-80s. “And then it dawned on me, there are actually still people out there that thought that way,’” he said.
The same night Asay killed Booker, he murdered a second person, Renee Torres, 26, after negotiating “a deal for oral sex.” Court documents listed Torres as a man who dressed as a woman. Torres “may have been either white or mixed-race, Hispanic but was not a black man,” the court wrote earlier this month.
Thomas Gross, Asay’s cellmate before his trial, said Asay proudly showed him his tattoos one night, “which included a swastika, the words ‘White Pride,’ and the initials ‘SWP’ which Gross said stand for supreme white power,” according to the prisoner. He said Asay believed both men whose lives he took were African American.
Asay’s execution was the first in Florida since the United States Supreme Court ruled its sentencing procedure was unconstitutional in January 2016. The court stated Florida’s process gave too much power to judges rather than relying on input from a jury.