January 7, 2014

At 6:45 pm EST, on January 7, 2014, Askari Abdullah Muhammad, a/k/a Thomas Knight, was executed by the state of Florida.  The execution occurred at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.  Askari was 62 years of age.  Askari was executed for the murder of correctional officer Richard James Burke, while on death row for the murder of Sydney and Lillian Gans.  Askari spent the last 38 years of his life on Florida’s death row.

On July 7, 1974, Askari Muhammad, then legally known as Thomas Knight, was employed by Sydney Gans, who believed in giving parolees a second chance.  Ten days later, on July 17, Sydney was ambushed by Knight as he exited his Mercedes Benz at work.

Sydney was forced back into the car and to pick up his wife, Lillian.  Sydney was then forced by Knight to withdraw $50,000 in cash from his bank.  When Sydney went inside, he informed the bank president of his situation.  The bank president informed the police and FBI.  Sydney returned to the car with the cash out of fear for his wife, who had remained in the car with Knight.

 

After returning to the car, 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, Knight was 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, which ended in his removal from the courtroom.Once again, a jury recommended, and a judge agreed, that Muhammad be given the death penalty.

The death warrant for Askari Muhammad’s execution referred 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.

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