A federal judge on Thursday denied an Arizona death-row inmate's request to postpone his July 23 execution until officials reveal details about the two-drug combination that will be used to put him to death.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake rejected Joseph Rudolph Wood's argument that his First Amendment rights were violated by the state's refusal to provide the information, such as the makers of the drugs and how the state developed its method for lethal injections.
"The court concludes that the First Amendment does not provide a right to access to the specific information Wood seeks," Wake wrote in his 15-page ruling.
Wood's lawyers said prison officials violated their client's First Amendment rights by refusing to provide the detailed information. Attorneys for the state argued there was no First Amendment right to the information Wood sought.
"Every citizen, including death row prisoners, has First Amendment rights," Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, said after the judge's ruling. "On appeal, we will ask the Ninth Circuit to order Arizona to comply with the First Amendment and disclose information about its execution process before it conducts human experimentation on Mr. Wood."
The arguments by Wood's attorneys are an example of a new legal tactic in death penalty cases, which emerged as states face problems getting supplies of lethal-injection drugs.
In the past, states used the same three-drug combination and didn't have problems getting access to the drugs, until the maker of a sedative used in executions decided not to make it anymore. Then, states started to shield the identity of the drugmakers.
The legal dispute in Arizona is emerging as concerns over the death penalty mount after a botched April 29 execution of an Oklahoma inmate and an incident in January in which an Ohio inmate snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die.
The Oklahoma inmate writhed on the gurney after he was given a three-drug combination. The execution was stopped after a doctor determined there was a problem with an IV in the inmate's groin. The Ohio execution was the longest since the state resumed putting inmates to death in 1999.
Arizona prison officials intend to use the same drugs — the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone — used in the Ohio execution. A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.
In October, another federal judge ordered Arizona officials to provide more information on the drugs it planned to use in two death penalty cases. The judge had ruled the inmates had established a First Amendment right to the information, such as the drug's manufacturer. Prison officials released the information, and both inmates were executed shortly thereafter.
Wood, 55, is scheduled to be executed for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, at an automotive shop in Tucson.
Wood and Debra Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted her. Wood fatally shot Dietz's father in the chest. Dietz was on the phone calling for help when Wood grabbed her around the neck and shot her in the chest. Wood acknowledged his role in the killings, but he said they weren't premeditated.