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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Arizona Sued Over Lethal-Injection Stance

PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona's refusal to reveal information about drugs used in its lethal injection executions violates the public's right to know what the government is doing, The Guardian and other news outlets claim in federal court.

Joined by the Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star and two Phoenix television news channels, the London-based newspaper sued Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne.

The 13-page complaint claims that the state has changed the drug combination it uses to execute death-row inmates at least three times since 2011, but has steadfastly refused to disclose "the source, composition, or quality of the drugs in response to public requests for that information, preventing democratic oversight and discussion of the ADC's execution practices."

"By withholding information about the source, composition, and quality of the drugs it uses for lethal injection executions, as well as the qualifications of those chosen to administer the drugs, the State of Arizona has closed critical governmental proceedings that have historically been open to the public and undermined the public's ability to ensure the positive functioning of government," the complaint states.

Like many states, Arizona used a three-drug mixture of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride until 2011, when it became impossible to acquire sodium thiopental. That's when Hospira, the only company with FDA approval to manufacturer the substance, ceased to do so.

After that the state decided to use pentobarbital to execute inmates, but "refused to disclose information about the lethal injection drugs, including manufacturer, lot number, or expiration date," the complaint states.

In March 2014, Horne announced the state's adoption of a two-drug execution protocol using Midazolam and Hydromorphone, but said the manufacturer would be kept secret under the state's confidentiality law.

The issue came to head on July 23, when It took nearly two hours for Arizona to execute convicted murderer Joseph Wood. Wood's lawyers attempted to stop the execution after it began, saying in an emergency motion in the 9th Circuit that the condemned man had "been gasping and snorting for more than an hour."

"The State of Arizona used fifteen injections over two hours to execute Mr. Wood," the complaint states. "Witnesses described a gasping, painful death. The public still does not know where the drugs came from, how potent they were, or how their quality was assured."

In September, the Arizona Department of Corrections refused a request from the Guardian and the AP to disclose the "source, composition, and quality of its lethal injection drugs," the plaintiffs claim.

"The ADC is purposefully avoiding disclosure of information otherwise required to be public under the First and Fourteenth Amendments," the complaint states.

"By protecting the identity of its commercial drug suppliers, the ADC is intentionally thwarting the right of interested parties to engage in constitutionally protected activity, as well as the First Amendment right of Plaintiffs to report on the identity and qualifications of drug suppliers, to report on the quality and efficacy of the drugs used, or to report on deviations from the intended protocol."

There are 119 inmates currently on death row in Arizona, all of whom face lethal injection thanks to a voter-approved change to the state constitution in 1992. Arizona's move from the gas chamber to lethal injection came after the execution of Donald Harding that same year, during which the condemned was reported have died "gasping, shuddering and desperately making obscene gestures with both strapped-down hands," the complaint states.

Represented in Phoenix by David Bodney and Christopher Moeser of Ballard Spahr, the media outlets want the state to reveal the "source, composition, and quality of the lethal injection drug," and an injunction preventing such secrecy in the future.

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