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 raise questions about the drugs
used in many states to execute prisoners, and it 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 troubling 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.
A major 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
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 plans to 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.
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.
They also charge that if midazolam is truly effective there
would be no need for a paralytic agent, which could be used to
The lawyers want executions 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 point to a June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that
allowed the use of midazolam in executions.
"I would ask the (district) court to remember that 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 year.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)