A judge presiding over a lawsuit that protests how Arizona carries out the death penalty extracted promises in court from the state Wednesday that it won't use the sedative midazolam in future executions.
Lawyers for the state are seeking to dismiss the lawsuit's claim that midazolam can't ensure that condemned inmates won't feel the pain caused by another drug in a three-drug execution protocol. The state said it won't use the sedative in the future even if it finds a new supply.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake said the state's decision to voluntarily end its midazolam use in executions could be changed in the future by a state prisons director or a governor.
"There is nothing to stop the director or a future director or a future governor from saying the world has changed," Wake said, marking the second time in recent months that he has questioned the solidity of the state's claim on finding midazolam.
Arizona announced nearly 4 months ago that it was eliminating its use of midazolam after its supply expired and another supplier couldn't be found because of pressure from opponents of the death penalty. Attorneys for the state say the lawsuit's midazolam claim is moot because the drug won't be used in the future executions.
Wake scheduled the hearing after learning that Ohio now has a supply of midazolam and plans to resume executions there in January.
Collin Wedel, an attorney representing the condemned inmates who filed the lawsuit, said the state's claim that it can't find the sedative doesn't hold water because Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas have already said they have a midazolam supply.
Jeffrey Sparks, an attorney representing the state, said the state wasn't arguing that there is no midazolam available anywhere, but rather that Arizona's prison system simply can't acquire it.
Wake hasn't yet decided whether to dismiss the lawsuit's midazolam claim.
Executions in Arizona will remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved. They were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 dozes of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney said the execution was botched.
Several of the lawsuit's claims have been dismissed, but lawyers for the condemned inmates want to press forward with allegations that the state has abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.
Similar challenges to the death penalty 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.
Source: Associated Press, October 20, 2016
Plaintiffs Want More Than A Promise From Arizona On Death Penalty Drug
The plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Arizona's death penalty want more than a promise that Arizona will never again use a controversial lethal injection drug.
Midazolam dominated the discussion during a federal court hearing Wednesday.
Judge Neil V. Wake called the hearing to ponder if Ohio's having recently obtained the drug defeats the state's argument that Arizona's inability to get more midazolam makes the lawsuit moot.
Lawyers for state followed up with a promise to never use midazolam again.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs said Ohio's plan to resume executions next year using midazolam show it's still available. Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas also have midazolam, they said.
A change in Arizona leadership could lead to the state using midazolam again, and the plaintiffs need a way to enforce the state's promise to refrain from using the drug, said Mark Haddad, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
"That would be very unfair to end this case now without any ability for us to stop that change of decision," Haddad said.
Haddad also said he's open to discussions on resolving the case, and he's hopeful the sides can come to an agreement.
Attorneys for the state declined to comment.
Source: KJZZ news, October 20, 2016
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