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Arizona set to move ahead on first executions since 2014

This July 7, 2010, file photo shows Nebraska's lethal injection chamber. (AP Photo/Nate Jenkins, File)

PHOENIX – Arizona is on the cusp of resuming executions after a hiatus of nearly seven years, state officials said Friday.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry “now stands ready to commence the execution process,” Director David Shinn said in a letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Brnovich told KTAR News 92.3 FM he’s been pushing to resume executions for years, with 20 of the approximately 115 Arizona death row inmates having exhausted their appeals. Some of the crimes date back to the 1970s, he said.

“I’m glad to see we are now in the process of finally ensuring justice for victims,” he said.

Shinn wrote that the department, at the direction of Gov. Doug Ducey, “has been working diligently to obtain the drugs necessary to implement executions” and “to identify sources to prepare the drugs in compliance with Arizona law.”

Brnovich said his office will move quickly, but it could be months before the state carries out its first death sentence since 2014.

“There is a formal process,” he said. “Our office files the motion for warrant of execution, and the state Supreme Court will conference then and they will issue or grant or deny that motion.”

Brnovich said the Supreme Court probably wouldn’t conference until April. If the motion is granted, the state will have 35 days to carry out the execution.

After the state settled a lawsuit last summer, finding the required drug, pentobarbital, and somebody to prepare it were among the final steps before executions could resume.

In August 2020, Brnovich said he’d located a pentobarbital supplier. In October, Shinn said his agency had started the process of obtaining the drug and located a compounding pharmacist to prepare it for executions.

Executions in Arizona were put on hold after the death of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours on July 23, 2014. His attorney said the execution was botched.

Brnovich said he was more concerned about the victims and their families than about the manner of the killer’s execution.

Wood was sentenced to die for the 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, at an automotive shop in Tucson.

“He killed people in cold blood in front of their family members,” Brnovich said. “There was no doubt as to his guilt.

“He was a degenerate killer and he deserved to die, and we have no idea whether that person suffered or didn’t or what the deal was with him.”

Death row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona filed a lawsuit after Wood’s execution, which led to the hiatus.

In July 2020, Brnovich reached a settlement over the state’s lethal injection procedures.

The settlement ensured that those who provide the supply of lethal injection drugs to the state will remain confidential and protected from harassment or retaliation from anti-death penalty activists.

In recent years, Arizona and other states have struggled to buy execution drugs after U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.

Five years ago, the state tried to import sodium thiopental, which had been used to carry out executions but was no longer manufactured by companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The state never received the shipment because federal agents stopped it at the Phoenix airport and the state lost an administrative challenge to the seizure.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Debra Dale and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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