The Arizona Department of Corrections again faces a likely shortage of drugs for executions by lethal injection.
All executions have been on hold in Arizona since July 2014, when murderer Joseph Wood was put to death in Florence. Despite warnings by defense attorneys, the Corrections Department used an experimental process using a Valium-like drug called midazolam in combination with a narcotic.
It did not go as planned. The executioner administered 15 times the supposed lethal dose before Wood died. Wood spent nearly two hours gasping and snorting on the execution gurney.
Judge Neil Wake, who has long ruled in favor of the Department of Corrections on execution protocols, afterward placed a moratorium on executions in the state.
On Tuesday, in a status conference in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Wake said that litigation could go forward on whether to resume executions.
The state had hoped to continue to use the drug midazolam in a different combination. But an Arizona assistant attorney general informed Wake that the state’s supply of that drug has an expiration date of late May, and the Department of Corrections has not yet been able to obtain more from other sources.
The attorneys who brought suit against the state’s lethal injection procedures said that the case and its appeals will not likely be finished by that May expiration date.
After the Wood execution, the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix brought suit against the state in Wood’s name and on behalf of five death row prisoners facing imminent execution. A law firm from Los Angeles joined the suit, as did the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, an association of nearly 20 newspapers and broadcast outlets, including The Arizona Republic.
The suit not only seeks to define the parameters of execution in Arizona, but also to provide more access to the media and the public.
Arizona, like most states, strictly guards the identities of its drug sources.
In 2010, The Republic reported that Arizona and other states were illegally importing the standard execution drug, sodium thiopental, from Europe. Since then, pharmaceutical firms, many of which are in Europe, have refused to supply drugs to American prisons for use in executions. Executions are illegal in many European countries, and no one in those countries is allowed to assist in executions elsewhere.
Source: azcentral, Michael Kiefer, January 12, 2016