PHOENIX – After a seven-year hiatus, the Arizona Attorney General hopes to resume executing death row inmates.
Last week, Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that his office had requested arrest warrants for the execution of two convicted murderers who have now been sentenced to death and have now exhausted all of their appeals.
While Brnovich is confident the state is ready to proceed, those against the death penalty say there has been too much secrecy and controversy surrounding the deadly injection drugs used to carry out these executions.
All executions were halted by a state Supreme Court judge in 2014 after lawyers called the “botched” execution of death row inmate Joseph Wood.
Wood was convicted of the murders of his estranged girlfriend and her father and sentenced to death in 1989. During his execution, a trial that should have lasted 10 minutes lasted an unbearable 157 minutes, according to witnesses.
Wood’s attorney, assistant federal defender Dale Baich and journalist Michael Kiefer witnessed the execution.
“He made his final statement and then the attendant stepped out of the room. I remember watching Mr. Wood when he was lying there. Slowly his eyes closed, his breath flattened and I noticed the color.” Face left. ” said Baich. He said Wood appeared to be silent for a few minutes.
“And then suddenly his mouth opened very wide. He leaned against the straps. His head tilted back and it was a huge gulp, he had trouble breathing,” said Baich.
Kiefer, who has reported 13 executions in Arizona, described what he considered “barbaric”.
“I think everyone kind of jumped into the room when it happened. I took my notepad and started typing how many times they did that,” Kiefer said.
“When they pronounced him dead, I had 640 crosshatches on my notebook showing the number of times I saw him cramp,” he added.
After nearly two hours and 15 injections of the deadly combination of drugs, Wood eventually died.
Brnovich said he would not label Joseph Wood’s execution “botched”.
“At the end of the day, the coroner and other experts said the killer was unconscious the entire time. There is no evidence that this person suffered in any way,” Brnovich said in an interview with ABC15 last week.
Baich questioned the attorney general’s testimony, adding that he was not there to witness Wood’s death in person.
“There is no medical examination report or autopsy report that tells whether a person has suffered or not,” added Baich.
The table below lists the number of executions in Arizona from 1992 to 2014 and the method used.
While Brnovich said “the ultimate crime deserves the ultimate punishment,” those against the death penalty say Wood’s execution was not unique.
They cited several executions in other states where the deadly injectable drugs either took too long to kill the prisoners, did not do what they were supposed to do by acting quickly, and in some cases caused the inmates to suffer badly.
According to an annual report released by the Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy and research group, states are “carrying out executions involving drugs and drug combinations that have never been attempted before,” and they are doing so “behind a growing veil of secrecy laws that protect the execution process from public scrutiny. “
Baich said there should be transparency about the execution process.
“What I saw in Arizona from 2010 to 2014 is consistently that the state doesn’t follow the rules, doesn’t follow protocol, and in the case of Joseph Wood, used an experimental drug combination that would fail. We knew that. We said giving They did that, but they made progress and it was really disturbing to watch this execution and what happened to Joe Wood, “Baich said.
The state will no longer use the combination of drugs given to Joseph Wood, but the state will use a drug called pentobarbital. In a letter from Brnovich to Governor Doug Ducey, Brnovich writes, “The Attorney General’s Office has found a legitimate supplier of pentobarbital who can make the drug available to our state.”
Baich said they also had many concerns about pentobarbital, particularly after seeing it used in executions in other states over the past year.
“The prisoners had pulmonary edema, which means they feel like they are drowning. So we are very concerned about it,” said Baich.
He called it a constitutional violation to subject a person to cruel and unusual punishment, and he also asked where the state got the drug from since there was a nationwide shortage of the drug and many drug companies would not sell the drugs to the state Department of corrections to be used in executions.
ABC15 asked Brnovich where the state got the drug.
“Well, that’s confidential, it’s private. Private by law,” Brnovich said. “I think we’ve seen opponents of the death penalty wage guerrilla war in the last few decades.”
To protect pharmaceutical companies, compound pharmacists and executioners from harassment, states are not required to disclose this information, but many lawyers who have clients on death row and activists against the death penalty saw it as a major problem.
“If the state of Arizona wants to take another citizen’s life, it should be transparent about where he got the drugs, who is performing the execution, what qualifications that person will have, and what kind of access people will have to the client.” “said Baich.
For Brnovich, however, it was about bringing justice to those who hurt the killers.
“Ultimately, what these lethal injection killers get is much better than anything they did to the victims and their families,” Brnovich said.
There have been some victories for those fighting for transparency.
According to a court agreement, the state must now leave microphones switched on in the execution chambers during the execution.
Baich said witnesses would now also see the prisoner being brought in and strapped down. You would also see the lethal injection lines inserted into the prisoner and the drugs pushed into their bodies.
ABC15 has reached out to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry for information on future executions in Arizona.
The agency sent us the following statement:
The department remains ready to enforce these statutorily imposed penalties in compliance with its statutory obligations under ARS § 13-757. Pentobarbital has been lawfully and successfully administered throughout the state and federal penitentiary system for many years to ensure that these statutorily imposed sentences have been carried out.