The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of a controversial drug used in the lengthy execution of an Arizona inmate last year. But the ruling does not end the legal debate over capital punishment in the state.
The justices voted 5-4 on Monday in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Midazolam was 1 of 2 drugs used in the execution of convicted murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood in Arizona last summer.
Wood died after snorting and gasping for air for nearly 2 hours, raising questions about the drug combination.
Midazolam was used in executions in Ohio and Oklahoma in which the inmates gasped and writhed in pain before dying.
Wood's lengthy death put a halt to Arizona's executions and set the stage for other courtroom battles on the issue.
EXECUTIONS ON HOLD
Wood was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and gasped over and over before taking his final breath nearly 2 hours later on July 23.
In November, a judge put on hold a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of execution protocols in Arizona pending the investigation of Wood's death.
The state also agreed to put on hold executions and to not seek any death warrants until the lawsuit is resolved. Once executions do resume, the state has said it will use a different drug combination and will only use midazolam if it cannot obtain the 2 other drugs, pentobarbital or sodium pentothal.
However, the state still refuses to say whether it has any execution drugs in supply, which kind, or whether it is actively seeking them.
Arizona has put 37 inmates to death since capital punishment resumed in 1992 and has about 120 inmates on death row.
LAWSUIT AGAINST ARIZONA
Wood and 5 other death row inmates filed a lawsuit against Arizona last June. The inmates say they have a First Amendment right to know about specific execution protocols such as the types of drugs used in lethal injections and the companies that supply them.
The state, like many others, had refused to provide information about the drugs used in executions since 2010, around the time Arizona had to find new drugs and manufacturers after an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company stopped making the drug that had been used previously.
News organizations, including The Associated Press, have also filed a lawsuit seeking information about the drugs.
The state hired an independent firm to investigate the Wood execution amid claims it had been botched. But that firm found in December that the state had done nothing wrong and had followed proper protocols. The findings showed Wood was injected correctly but did not react to the drugs as expected. Still, the 3-member team recommended the changes to the drugs used, which the state agreed to.
Dale Baich, Wood's attorney, said the report failed to explain why the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised.
Source: Associated Press, June 30, 2015
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