Judge: Public has right to view entirety of executions
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge in Phoenix on Wednesday said the state of Arizona must allow witnesses to view the entirety of an execution, including each time drugs are administered, marking a partial legal win for a coalition of news organizations that filed a lawsuit over secrecy surrounding lethal injections.
The lawsuit is one of two challenging the way executions are carried out in Arizona that were filed in the nearly two-hour death of Joseph Rudolph Wood in 2014. Wood was administered 15 doses of a two-drug combination before he finally died.
The Associated Press is one of the organizations involved in the lawsuit filed by news organizations.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow on Wednesday also denied requests for summary judgment by the news organizations and the state.
The case will likely go to trial over other issues, such as the source of lethal injection drugs and the qualifications of executioners.
Snow’s order requires the state to allow execution witnesses to view the entirety of an execution.
Under current protocol, executioners are not seen administering the drug. Execution witnesses in the death of Wood were not aware until several days later that he was injected 15 times with the two-drug combination that was supposed to kill him with one dose.
Wood was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, 29-year-old Debbie Dietz, and her father, Gene Dietz, at their family car shop in August 1989.
Arizona has put executions on hold pending the resolution of the other lawsuit.
The news organizations have argued that the public has a right to know where the state gets lethal injection drugs and how many doses are administered.
Attorneys for the state counter that the First Amendment doesn’t extend to the details the news organizations sought.
An attorney arguing in court in October said allowing the public to view how many doses of lethal injection drugs are given during an execution would jeopardize staff members because they could be identified. The state also says suppliers would stop providing execution drugs if the state were to reveal where they came from because of threats they could receive.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office didn’t respond to late evening calls and an email seeking comment.
In the other lawsuit involving Arizona’s death penalty, the state this week agreed to never again use the sedative known as midazolam, one of the two drugs used to kill Wood.
The state didn’t acknowledge any liability in settling the claim that the use of midazolam doesn’t ensure that inmates won’t feel the pain caused by another drug in the combination.
A remaining claim in the lawsuit alleges the state has abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of drugs used in past executions.