Arizona Agrees to Drop Drug From Execution Cocktail

PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona agreed Monday to never again use a controversial sedative for executions, after its last use took nearly two hours to kill a prisoner in 2014.

Executions of death row inmates have been on hold in the state for two years since the execution of convicted killer Joseph Wood, which took nearly two hours.

Wood was given 15 doses of the sedative midazolam and a painkiller on July 23, 2014. The execution began at 1:52 p.m., but Wood gasped and snorted until he was finally pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m.

The joint stipulated settlement released Monday comes in a 2014 lawsuit filed by death row inmates – including Wood before his death – to stop the executions.

In the agreement, the Arizona Department of Corrections said it “will never again use midazolam, or any other benzodiazepine, as part of a drug protocol in a lethal-injection execution.”

The stipulation follows an announcement earlier this year by the state that it would eliminate the use of midazolam after its supply expired in May and it could not find another supplier.

“The department’s source of midazolam has vanished under pressure from death-penalty opponents,” the state said in a court filing.

If the state reneges on the agreement, current and future prisoners will be allowed to reopen proceedings and “an order shall issue permanently enjoining ADC from using midazolam, or any other benzodiazepine, in an execution or in an execution protocol.”

Dale Baich, a federal public defender, called the state’s decision “a sensible one.”

“Scientific evidence shows that this class of drugs is not an appropriate drug for use in lethal injection executions. Time after time, midazolam has failed to keep condemned prisoners adequately anesthetized and to bring about a quick, humane death,” Baich said in a statement. “The bungled execution of Ron Smith in Alabama on Dec. 8 is just the latest example.”

During Smith’s execution, he was seen gasping and his left hand clinched. The Alabama Department of Corrections defended the execution, saying it followed an established protocol.

The Arizona agreement now awaits approval by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake.


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