In a decision that comes as a big blow to the state Attorney General's office, an Arizona Supreme court judge has put two future executions on hold because of serious concerns surrounding the drugs used in lethal injections used to execute inmates on death row.
The state had been seeking to expedite the execution schedules of inmates Clarence Dixon and Frank Atwood who have both been on Arizona's death row for crimes committed decades ago. Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced he hoped, earlier this year, to carry out their executions by fall 2021.
Executions in Arizona had been halted since 2014 after what some call the "botched" execution of convicted killer Joseph Wood. Witnesses have said the lethal injection drugs did not work.
They watched as Wood gasped and convulsed for almost two hours, before he finally died. After a court settlement last year, the state spent millions of dollars buying new drugs to carry out future executions. The drug must be compounded into a sterile injector by a compounding pharmacist and would be made when the state asks for an execution date.
Under the settlement agreement reached in federal court, the state must provide test results on the execution drugs within ten days of asking for an execution warrant. That means the drug needs to be compounded within ten days of the state asking for an execution date.
When the judge learned that the lethal injection drug had a 45-day shelf life as opposed to a 90-day shelf life as originally claimed, the judge decided to deny the state's requests to push back the briefing schedules to accommodate the executions.
"This is a question of transparency and accountability," said Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, who represents inmate Clarence Dixon.
"The drug was only good for 45-days and would have expired by the time the execution dates would take place," he added.
Joseph Perkins, the attorney for inmate Frank Atwood has released the following statement:
“The Supreme Court of Arizona has recognized that the State’s erratic representations on crucial issues about its execution drugs required a halt to any further execution procedure. This derails the Attorney General’s reckless campaign to resume executions and affords Arizona the time to conduct the steps to establish the adequacy of its compounded pentobarbital for its intended purpose. Crucially, this development may allow the courts to address the many unanswered problems enveloping Mr. Atwood’s conviction and sentence.”
Baich added that if the state wanted to carry out future executions, they needed to ensure their clients' constitutional rights would not be violated.
The judge has asked the state to test the drugs to see how effective they are beyond their shelf life.
The Arizona Attorney General's office released the following statement:
“Attorney General Brnovich will continue to fight for victims and their families. Too often we focus on the convicted killers in these cases even after they’ve exhausted all their appeals. Justice delayed is justice denied.”