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Judge’s execution ruling leaves Arizona at crossroads in death penalty debate

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Arizona will not be killing anyone by lethal injection anytime soon.

This comes as a result of three things:

  1. A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake keeping all executions in Arizona on hold for an unspecified amount of time.
  2. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant, recently announcing it would no longer supply prisons with seven drugs used to impose the death penalty, including one used by Arizona, midazolam.
  3. The fact that Arizona’s supply of midazolam is set to expire on May 31.

Arizona’s current protocol in executions calls for midazolam. This was used on July 23, 2014 when Arizona executed Joseph Wood — Arizona’s last execution to date — which did not turn out as expected.

As a result of this “botched execution” (as many have termed it), a federal lawsuit was filed by seven Death Row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona demanding the state stop using the questionable drug cocktail and more transparency in the execution process.

As part of that lawsuit, Wake issued a moratorium on executions until investigations into the Wood execution could be completed.

Earlier this year, those investigations were completed and Wake ordered the lawsuit go forward.

Shortly after that ruling, Arizona requested Wake allow executions to go forward since its supply of midazolam was approaching its expiration date and that state has no way to replace that supply since manufacturers don’t want their products used in executions.

Not persuaded, Wake ruled Wednesday that the ban on executions will remain in place.

What is next for Arizona? Will the wild, wild west start using the firing squad? Not likely.

If Arizona wants to continue executing prisoners, I see a few options:

  • Return to the use of lethal gas (which carries its own difficulties)
  • Create a new protocol with a new drug combination, (which is costly and time-consuming)
  • Ask the Legislature and/or voters to approve a different technique to carry out executions (costly, time-consuming and not really practical)

The state could also move to get rid of the death penalty, which would be the easiest option, but would be costly and time-consuming process.

Regardless of which road Arizona chooses to head down, it will have to dedicate a fair amount of money and time to resolve this seemingly never-ending battle between those that believe in the death penalty and those that are opposed to it.

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