PHOENIX - A federal appeals court on Friday began considering whether to grant a reprieve in the upcoming execution of an Arizona inmate after his lawyer sought information about the two-drug combination that will be used to put him to death.
The request came during a hearing in the case of Joseph Rudolph Wood before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Wood is set to be executed on Wednesday after being convicted in the deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father nearly 25 years ago.
Wood contends his First Amendment rights were violated by the state's refusal to reveal the drugmakers and other details. An attorney for the state argued that Wood has no right to the information he is seeking.
The arguments by Wood's attorneys reflect a legal tactic being used in a number of death penalty cases as states face problems getting lethal-injection drugs.
In the past, states used the same three-drug combination and didn't have problems getting access to the drugs until the maker of a sedative used in executions decided not to make it anymore. States then started to shield the identity of the drugmakers.
Robin Konrad, an attorney for Wood, said the access to executions that the public and journalists have received in the past extends to information connected to the procedure. She also said the information on the drugs is needed as part of an informed public debate about capital punishment.
"It is not a stretch to ask for the limited information that Mr. Wood has asked for about the process," Konrad said.
Jeffrey L. Sparks, an attorney for the state, was asked by a judge why Arizona opposes the release of the information.
"Experience has shown that when this type of information becomes public, it becomes almost impossible for the state to obtain the drugs it needs," Sparks said.
It's unclear when the three-judge panel will issue a ruling.
Concerns about the death penalty have mounted after a botched April 29 execution of an Oklahoma inmate and an incident in January in which an Ohio inmate snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die.
Arizona prison officials intend to administer the same drugs -- the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone -- used in the Ohio execution. A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.
Wood, 55, is scheduled to be executed in Florence for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, at an automotive shop in Tucson.