Arizona executions suspended amid governor-ordered review: NPR

Arizona Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs speaks at her state address in Phoenix on January 9, 2023.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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Ross D. Franklin/AP

Arizona Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs speaks at her state address in Phoenix on January 9, 2023.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

PHOENIX – Arizona’s attorney general has halted executions in the state until it completes a review of execution protocols ordered by the new governor due to the state’s history of mismanagement.

The review requested Friday by Governor Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s first Democratic governor since 2009, comes as the state’s new Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes, has withdrawn the request. her Republican predecessor’s request for an order to execute a convicted murderer, who initially requested execution but later backed down from that request. Mayes spokeswoman Richie Taylor said that while Hobbs’ order does not state a moratorium on executions, Mayes will not seek a court order to execute inmates while the review process is underway. onion. The review comes just days after the governor appointed Ryan Thornell, a Maine prison official, as Arizona’s new correctional officer.

“With the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry now under new leadership, it is time to address the fact that this is a system that needs better oversight on many fronts,” Hobbs said.

The review will consider, among other things, the state’s procurement of lethal injections and toxic gases, execution procedures, access to executions by news organizations, and the digging of executions. create staff to carry out executions.

Arizona, which currently has 110 death row inmates, carried out three executions last year after a nearly eight-year hiatus due to criticism that the 2014 execution had been a failure and because of difficulties procuring execution drugs. .

The state revealed in October 2020 that it had found a compounding pharmacist to prepare the lethal injection and announced in spring 2021 that it had finally received a supply of the lethal injection.

Since the resumption of executions, the state has been criticized for taking too long to insert an IV tube into a convicted prisoner in early May and for refusing a request to witness. ​the last three executions of the Arizona Republican newspaper.

“These issues go back more than a decade,” said Dale Baich, a former federal public attorney who teaches death penalty law at Arizona State University. “The Department of Corrections, the governor and the attorney general (in previous administrations) ignored the issues and refused to carefully consider the issues. Governor Hobbs and Attorney General Mayes should be commended for their work. take this matter seriously.”

On Friday, Mayes withdrew her Republican predecessor Mark Brnovich’s petition for an order to execute Aaron Gunches, who was first sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of his girlfriend’s ex-husband. . Gunches earlier this month withdrew his request to be executed, citing recent executions he said were “torture”.

“These circumstances have now changed,” Mayes said. “However, that is not the only reason why I asked to withdraw the previous petition,” Mayes said. “A thorough review of Arizona’s death penalty administration protocols and processes is required.”

The state’s nearly eight-year hiatus follows a 2014 execution in which Joseph Wood was injected with 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours, causing death row inmates to snort and gasp. more than 600 times before dying. His lawyer said the execution was botched.

In the past, Arizona and other states have struggled to procure execution drugs after US and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.

In July 2015, the state attempted to import sodium thiopental, which was used to carry out executions but is no longer manufactured by companies approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. . The state never received the shipment because federal agents intercepted it at the Phoenix airport, and the state lost an administrative lawsuit for the seizure.

Arizona is the only state that currently has a working gas chamber.

The last poison gas execution in the United States was carried out in Arizona more than two decades ago. The state refurbished the gas chamber in late 2020. Correction officials declined to say why they restarted the gas chamber.

All three prisoners executed in Arizona last year refused the gas, leading to them being executed by injection, the default method of execution.


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