(Adds court filing)
By Jon Herskovitz
Oct 18 A federal judge in Phoenix will hear
arguments this week about resuming executions in Arizona, where
a 2014 lethal injection that took nearly two hours raised
questions about the state's death chamber protocols and the
chemicals it uses to kill inmates.
The case is the latest to challenge the drugs used in many
states to execute prisoners, and may wind up putting the issue
back for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Arizona last year changed its lethal injection procedures
following the troubled 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, but
lawyers for seven Arizona death row inmates contend new
guidelines and drugs will violate U.S. constitutional
protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
One issue at the hearing set for Wednesday in U.S. district
court will be the sedative midazolam, a valium-like drug critics
contend does not achieve the level of unconsciousness required
for surgery and is therefore unsuitable for executions.
The drug was used in Wood's execution along with a narcotic,
hydromorphone. He was seen gasping for air during a nearly
two-hour procedure where he received 15 rounds of drug
injections. Lethal injections are supposed to result in death in
a matter of minutes.
Under the new protocols, Arizona has listed one mix where it
will use midazolam along with a drug that causes paralysis and
another that stops the heart. A similar combination was used in
Oklahoma, which had a troubled execution where an inmate was
seen twisting on a death chamber gurney.
The state said in court papers filed late on Monday it
intends to revise its protocols and remove midazolam as an
option, pledging not to use it even if it becomes available. It
has three other options for lethal injection mixes that do not
use the drug in the new protocols.
Lawyers for the inmates contend the source of the drugs and
their purity have been cloaked in secrecy, since European makers
and U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc halted sales
of drugs used in executions to prison systems in recent years.
As a result, states have turned to lightly regulated
compounding pharmacies that mix chemicals. The few states that
have obtained lethal injection drugs since then have kept the
names of their suppliers confidential.
The lawyers want to put future executions on hold while the
court reviews the protocols.
"Officials in Arizona have fought tooth and nail to protect
that secrecy, which, along with the use of an experimental drug
combination, only serves to increase the risk of more
problematic executions," said Dale Baich, an attorney for the
The state contends its protocols correct previous problems
and it should be permitted to implement capital punishment.
"Victims and state governments have rights and interests,
too, including an important interest in the timely enforcement
of a sentence and the state's interest to enforce its own laws,"
David Weinzweig argued on behalf of Arizona at a hearing this
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)