SCOTUS Clears Way for Arizona Execution
WASHINGTON (CN) - Clearing the way for Arizona to execute a convicted killer, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated an injunction entered by the 9th Circuit.
Convicted for the 1989 murders of Debra and Eugene Dietz in Tucson, death-row inmate Joseph Wood had been scheduled for lethal injection on Wednesday.
An injunction issued over the weekend by the 9th Circuit said Arizona could not execute Wood before revealing the source of the drugs it will use and the qualifications of its executioners.
The controversy is one of several to erupt across the country over the use of Midazolam and Hydromorphone in executions ever since the American manufacturer of the previously preferred drug, thiopenta, stopped production in 2011 because of its objections to the death penalty.
Arizona was among 32 states to switch to pentobarbital and then switched to the two-drug protocol after pentobarbital also became unavailable.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced the state's adoption of a two-drug execution protocol in March but said the manufacturer would be kept secret under the state's confidentiality law.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake in Phoenix had denied Wood a preliminary injunction earlier this month, not persuaded by his argument that the state's failure to disclose the manufacturer of the drugs and the qualifications of the executioners had violated his rights under the First Amendment.
In staying Wood's execution Saturday, a divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit said the inmate had raised "serious questions" about the state's refusal to provide all of the information that he had requested about the details of his execution.
The majority ruling by Judge Sidney Thomas also cited "flawed executions" using the two-drug protocol in Oklahoma and Ohio this year.
Judge Jay Bybee argued in dissent that the majority had "co-opted" the First Amendment as the "latest tool in this court's ongoing effort to bar the state from lawfully imposing the death penalty."
In conflating constitutional rights with policy judgments, the court "usurp[s] the authority of the Arizona legislature and disregard[s] the instructions of the Supreme Court," Bybee said.
The circuit refused Monday to reconsider the issue before an 11-judge, en banc panel, allowing the state to take its case to the Supreme Court.
In separate orders Tuesday, the high court vacated the 9th Circuit's injunction and denied Wood a stay of execution.
The district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Wood's motion for a preliminary injunction," one of the brief orders states.
In his dissent to the denial of rehearing the issue before the en banc 9th Circuit, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski advocated for use of a firing squad instead of lethal injection.
"Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time," he wrote. "There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true. The weapons and ammunition are bought by the state in massive quantities for law enforcement purposes, so it would be impossible to interdict the supply. And nobody can argue that the weapons are put to a purpose for which they were not intended: firearms have no purpose other than destroying their targets. Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn't be carrying out executions at all."
Kozinski said Arizona "should and will prevail in this case," but that the state should "own up that using drugs is a mistake and come up with something that will work, instead."