Judge: Arizona doesn't have to reveal execution drug sources

Posted at 12:57 PM, Sep 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 16:54:44-04

Arizona can keep private what companies supply drugs for executions, a judge ruled Thursday in a lawsuit that argued the public has a right to know that information about the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow also rejected a bid to order the state to divulge the qualifications of people who carry out capital punishment in Arizona.

The decision marked a defeat for news organizations, including The Associated Press, that sued to get the information released, saying it would help the public determine whether executions are carried out humanely and promote confidence in the criminal justice system.

The lawsuit followed the 2014 execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over nearly two hours in what his attorney called a botched execution.

Like other states, Arizona is struggling to buy execution drugs after U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.

Two years ago, Arizona tried to illegally import an anesthetic that has been used to carry out executions but is no longer manufactured by companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The state never obtained the shipment because federal agents stopped it at the Phoenix airport.

At a one-day trial in July on the media lawsuit, an Arizona prison official testified that suppliers of lethal injection drugs have refused to sell to the state, even though a law protects the companies from being publicly identified.

The prison official said suppliers fear that selling lethal injection drugs would hurt their business. An attorney for the news organizations offered a different explanation -- that the drug companies simply don't want to be involved in executions.

The state said a law prohibiting the disclosure of identifying information about anyone serving on an execution team extends the same sort of confidentiality to suppliers of lethal injection drugs.

Other news organizations that filed the lawsuit are The Arizona Republic, Guardian News & Media, Arizona Daily Star, CBS 5 (KPHO-TV) and 12 News (KPNX-TV).

The news organizations won a partial victory last year when Snow ruled that the state must allow witnesses to view the entirety of an execution, including each time drugs are administered. Witnesses to Wood's death couldn't see that he was receiving additional doses of the drugs after the first ones failed to kill him.

A new execution protocol issued in January will let witnesses see the injections through a camera in a room where the drugs are loaded into an inmate's IV line.

Arizona, which has 118 prisoners on death row, saw executions put on hold for 2 1/2 years after the 2014 death of Wood.

But the state is now able to resume executions after a separate lawsuit that challenged the way Arizona carries out the death penalty was settled this summer. No executions are scheduled.