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Death row in Arizona: Is capital punishment system 'broken'?

Posted at 9:52 PM, Mar 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-17 01:43:14-04

A bizarre move by prosecutors in Mohave County prompted ABC15 to ask questions about the status of Arizona's death row.

FULL COVERAGE: Death row in Arizona

More than 100 people are currently sitting on death row in Arizona, handed the highest form of punishment, but it's unclear if those 116 prisoners will ever pay the price.

"The state of the death penalty in Arizona is that it's broken," said Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich.

This discussion recently came up in an Arizona courtroom in the brutal murder of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Canella. She was strangled, sexually abused and left in a shallow grave.

Prosecutors asked for the death penalty for defendant Justin James Rector, then withdrew that request, saying, "There is no reasonable likelihood of the death penalty actually being imposed in a realistic and efficient timeframe given the current state of affairs surrounding persons sentenced to death."


Baich said Arizona has not had the drugs to perform a lethal injection since 2014, when Joseph Wood's botched execution at the Florence State Prison shocked the nation.

"It took the state one hour and 57 minutes to execute Wood," Baich explained.

He believes that's one reason why prosecutors are moving away from capital punishment. The second is, it's simply too expensive.

Ultimately, the power lies in the hands of the county prosecutor.

"I can tell you we have fewer capital cases pending than at any time in the last 20 years," said Maricopa County Prosecutor Bill Montgomery.

Death penalty cases are down in both Maricopa and Pima counties.

Many prosecutors, like in the Rector case, are withdrawing notices to seek capital punishment because of the broken system.

"Is it sound public policy or is it a relic from our past that we should abandon," Baich asked. "I really hope legislators will take a look at this issue and put it to the people."

There are 31 states in the U.S. that still use capital punishment.

Maryland was the most recent state to drop it two years ago.