|Arizona's death chamber|
Attorneys representing the state of Arizona called on a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the way the state carries out the death penalty.
If U.S. District Judge Neil Wake rules in its favor, the Arizona Department of Corrections would be free to resume lethal injections, which were put on hold after an experiment with a new drug cocktail went awry in 2014, leaving convicted murderer Joseph Wood gasping on the executioner's gurney for more than 2 hours.
7 death-row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona filed the lawsuit hoping to define the parameters of execution and make the process more transparent by forcing the state to, among other things, release information about which lethal-injection drugs it intends to use and how they were obtained.
Arizona, along with the rest of the nation, has been flailing to find a reliable drug cocktail since U.S. manufacturers stopped producing the anesthetic sodium thiopental and the European Union, in 2010, banned its export for use in lethal injection.
The Department of Corrections has twice been caught illegally importing sodium thiopental. Meanwhile, on Wood, officials tried using a 2-drug mix, including the sedative midazolam, which previously had been used in 2 other high-profile botched executions.
Despite the controversy surrounding Wood's death, when the department published its lethal-injection protocol under court order in October, it did not drop midazolam. Instead, it added a 3rd drug that would paralyze prisoners before the final heart-stopping chemical was injected.
Attorney Mark Haddad, representing the inmates, argued that Arizona's chemical experimentation amounts to a violation of prisoners' Eighth Amendment right to be protected from "cruel and unusual" punishment.
In particular, he objected to the state's use of the paralytic, which he argued wasn't necessary to kill a prisoner but would cause "a distinct kind of suffering, which is the feeling of imminent suffocation."
He expressed concern that the paralytic would mask any pain caused by insufficient sedation under midazolam.
"When the state introduces a chemical that ensures there will be no public awareness or ability to observe the prisoners' experience of pain, that puts a complete curtain over the reality of the proceedings," he said. "It's as if the state carried out the execution in a back room."
Attorney David D. Weinzweig, representing the Department of Corrections, pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court last year determined that it was constitutionally permissible to use midazolam along with a paralytic.
Arguing that Arizona adheres to national standards in execution, he accused death-penalty opponents of manipulating the courts in an attempt to block executions.
The state is strapped for time because, attorneys told the court earlier this year, its supply of midazolam is scheduled to expire at the end of May.
"I would ask the court to remember that victims and state governments have rights and interests, too, including an important interest in the timely enforcement of a sentence and the state's ability to enforce its own laws," Weinzweig said.
Wake, with a nod to the state's predicament, committed to "get an order out as fast as I can.
"Capital punishment is legal, and there has to be a way to do it," he said.
Source: phoenixnewtimes.com, April 8, 2016
Arizona death penalty executions remain on hold as judge hears arguments
A judge heard arguments Thursday on an effort by Arizona to dismiss a lawsuit over how it carries out the death penalty in a decision that could let the state resume executions.
Executions in Arizona are on hold until the lawsuit is resolved, but a dismissal would clear the way to continue using the death penalty.
But even then, the state would face what's believed to be a fast-approaching expiration date on its supply of a key lethal-injection drug.
That would leave a short timeframe for carrying out executions.
State lawyers said in January that Arizona's supply of the sedative midazolam will expire on May 31 and that it didn't have a means to get more.
No update has been provided on whether it has since found a new supply.
Source: KTAR news, April 8, 2016
Judge Mulls Whether to Let Arizona's Executions Resume
A federal judge heard arguments Thursday on an effort by Arizona to dismiss a lawsuit over how it carries out the death penalty in a decision that could let the state resume executions.
Executions in Arizona are on hold until the lawsuit is resolved, but if the case is dismissed, it would clear the way for the state to continue using the death penalty.
But even then, the state would face what's believed to be a fast-approaching expiration date on its supply of a key lethal-injection drug, leaving Arizona with a short timeframe for carrying out executions.
Lawyers for the state told U.S. District Judge Neil Wake earlier this year that Arizona's supply of the sedative midazolam will expire on May 31 and that it didn't have a means to get more. The Arizona Department of Corrections and Attorney General's Office had no immediate comment Thursday on whether the state has since found a new supply.
The lawsuit by 7 death-row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona seeks more transparency in the state's execution process, such as information about the suppliers of lethal-injection drugs, their expiration dates and the state's efforts to find such drugs. It protests the use of a paralytic drug that's part of the state's 3-drug lethal-injection protocol, claiming it masks whether midazolam given to a condemned inmate is effective.
Lawyers pushing the lawsuit say there's no valid reason for the government to use the paralytic. The lawsuit says the state has violated the First Amendment rights of access to government proceedings and violates the prisoners' right to be free from chemical experimentation.
Attorneys for the state are seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of midazolam and a paralytic in lethal injections.
They say death penalty critics are manipulating the judicial system and pharmaceutical market in their opposition to executions. They also say Arizona embraces national standards in executions to avoid mishaps.
Executions in Arizona were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney says the execution was botched.
Wake had an up-close perspective of the Wood execution. The judge received an emergency phone call during the execution from lawyers who asked him to halt it and order medical staff to revive the inmate. The judge did not intervene because Wood died during his conversation with lawyers.
Since then, the Department of Corrections has issued new protocols that include 4 different drug combinations that can be used in executions.
Similar lawsuits are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.
States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections. Death penalty states refuse to disclose the sources of their drugs, though the sources are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies - organizations that make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies.
Source: Associated Press, April 8, 2016