Arizona Execution Can Go Through, Supreme Court Rules

An Arizona execution will be allowed to proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a stay of execution for Joseph Wood, who is scheduled to be put to death Wednesday morning at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. Wood was sentenced to death for killing his girlfriend and her father in Tucson in 1989.

Arizona intends to execute the 55-year-old with a controversial drug called midazolam, which was used in three flawed executions earlier this year, according to USA Today. In those cases, the dying inmates appeared to suffer respiratory distress before they were declared dead.

The Southwestern state also frequently uses a controversial method of administering drugs at the center of a botched execution in April in Oklahoma. In that execution, the condemned man writhed in pain for over 40 minutes before he died of an apparent heart attack.

Wood’s lawyers filed for a preliminary injunction to keep Arizona from completing the execution unless the state provided them with information about the qualifications of the executioners and the origin of the drugs to be used in the process. A U.S. District Court judge denied the request, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Saturday that Wood had a First Amendment right to the information.

Yahoo! News notes that the state appealed to the Supreme Court, which was not receptive to the defense lawyers’ arguments. Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., explained that, had the Supreme Court sided with Joseph Wood, “the whole country would likely be affected.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Wood’s attorney, Dale Baich, stated, “The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect is harmful for our democracy because it prevents the public, the courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in compliance with all state and federal laws.”

Wood has one more appeal for a stay of execution pending before the 9th Circuit, which will be decided by Wednesday.

In court filings, Arizona state officials claimed they need to maintain secrecy in the drug process because publicity has made it difficult to obtain the drugs needed to carry out executions. Drug manufacturers have started refusing to sell to departments of corrections, forcing death penalty states to turn to compounding pharmacies or experiment with new and less reliable drugs.

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Arizona execution didn’t delve into the issue, but said simply that the appeals court’s judgement is vacated.

[Image by Ken Piorkowski]