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Updated Jul 21, 2014 - 5:38 pm

Arizona execution-drug case heads to US Supreme Court

PHOENIX — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Arizona cannot execute
a death row inmate without providing detailed information about the drugs
intended for his lethal injection, a decision that prompted state officials to
say they will take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The dispute centers on whether a man convicted of killing his estranged
girlfriend and her father should have access to information the state of Arizona
has refused to provide, and it comes amid nationwide scrutiny surrounding
capital punishment and whether condemned inmates unduly suffer.

Arizona officials lost their attempt to overturn a three-judge panel of the 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled recently that death row inmate Joseph
Rudolph Wood, convicted in the 1989 shooting deaths, “raised serious
questions” about whether he should have “access to lethal injection drug
information and executioner qualifications.”

The ruling marked the first time that an appeals court has delayed an execution
based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death
Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Arizona is among several states that refuse to disclose the supplier of their
execution drugs, how or whether those drugs are tested, or details about the
qualifications of the execution team.

Some of the most active death penalty states _ including Texas, Florida and
Missouri _ have been the subject of similar lawsuits from virtually every death
row inmate facing imminent execution over the past several months, but courts
have rarely stepped in.

Wood, in winning the delay, argued that he had a constitutional right to know
the withheld details about his execution.

Dale Baich, an attorney for Wood said his team is “looking forward to Arizona
turning over the information that we requested.”

“The 9th Circuit has correctly recognized the importance of the information
that Joe Wood sought,” Baich said.

Arizona attorney general’s office spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, however, said
the state will file an application with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to
dismiss the ruling and allow prison officials to put Wood to death without any
such disclosures.

It’s not clear whether the high court will take up the case, but Dieter said it
shows judiciary disagreement on the issue. “That is often an invitation for the
U.S. Supreme Court to intervene,” Dieter said.

If the Supreme Court does step in, death penalty experts say it’s likely the
appeals court decision will be overruled.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, of the 9th Circuit, dissented from the decision
Monday that led to the state’s planned Supreme Court appeal.

“I have little doubt that the Supreme Court will thwart this latest attempt to
interfere with the State of Arizona’s efforts to carry out its lawful sentence
and bring Wood to justice for the heinous crimes he committed a quarter century
ago,” Kozinski wrote.

The process of lethal injections and whether inmates unduly suffer has come
into focus several times this year.

An Ohio inmate in January snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him
to die. And an Oklahoma execution was botched in April as prison officials
halted the process after noticing the drugs weren’t being administered properly.
The inmate died of a heart attack several minutes later.

Jim Salter reported from St. Louis.


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