Arizona finds death penalty drug after hiatus in executions
PHOENIX – Arizona has finally obtained a lethal injection drug and is ready to resume executions after the difficulty of finding such drugs led to a nearly seven-year hiatus in carrying out the death penalty in the state, corrections officials said Friday.
The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry confirmed that the state has obtained pentobarbital, but it declined to say how much of the drug it has gotten or reveal its source. The agency cited a state law that keeps the identities of executioners and others who assist in carrying out the death penalty confidential. Finding a pharmacist to prepare lethal injections was one of the barriers the state faced since it put executions on hold after a botched execution in 2014.
Twenty-one of Arizona’s 115 death-row inmates have exhausted all appeals of their sentences. Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office said the state soon expects to file its first death warrant, clearing the way for executions since the hiatus began.
“This is an important step for the victims and their families, many who have been waiting decades for justice,” said Katie Conner, a spokeswoman for the Brnovich’s office. “The time is now to carry out court ordered sentences. Those who commit the ultimate crimes deserve the ultimate punishment.”
Dale Baich, chief of the unit in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Arizona that represents inmates in death penalty appeals, said it’s too early to tell whether defense attorneys will mount a challenge to the state’s use of execution drugs.
“As more information becomes available, we will continue to assess the situation with regard to the safety and efficacy of the drugs, the legitimacy of the supply and the readiness of the (corrections) department to go forward,” Baich said.
Executions in Arizona were put on hold after the death of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over two hours. His attorney had said the execution was botched. Wood was executed for the 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, at an automotive shop in Tucson.
In recent years, Arizona and other states have struggled to buy execution drugs after U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections.
In July 2015, the state tried to import sodium thiopental, which had been used to carry out executions but was no longer manufactured by companies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The state never received the shipment because federal agents stopped it at the Phoenix airport and the state lost an administrative challenge to the seizure.
In October, corrections officials revealed that they had found a compounding pharmacist to prepare the drug for lethal injections. They declined to say Friday whether that particular pharmacist was the one person who supplied the state with its pentobarbital supply.
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