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Judge blocks Arizona execution due to drug issue

A federal judge on Monday blocked the scheduled execution of an Arizona death row inmate, saying more time was needed to consider a challenge to the use of a knockout drug from an unidentified manufacturer.

Jeffrey Landrigan had been scheduled to be executed Tuesday for a 1989 murder.

Landrigan’s lawyers argued that he could be suffocated painfully if the sodium thiopental didn’t work to render him unconscious before two other drugs were administered to paralyze his muscles and stop his heart.

U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver said that was a legitimate concern.

The assumption of the state’s three-drug execution protocol “is that the sodium thiopental will, in fact, be sodium thiopental and it will operate in its intended manner,” Silver wrote.

The drug is in short supply nationally.

Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani had said Sunday the state would appeal any order by Silver granting a stay. The prosecutor did not immediately return calls for comment after Silver ruled Monday.

Silver also ordered prosecutors to provide Landrigan’s lawyers with information about the manufacturers of the drugs to be used in the execution. Responding to an earlier order by Silver, prosecutors had submitted that information only to her, asking that it be kept confidential.

Landrigan attorney Dale Baich welcomed Silver’s order and said he hoped the state would comply.

“Obviously the court has some concerns here and wants to take a closer look at this issue,” he said.

Baich commented after visiting his client at a prison in Florence. Landrigan was aware of the ruling but the lawyer declined to discuss what was said.

Silver said a state law providing confidentiality for executions and those involved in carrying out executions to protect them from harassment doesn’t extend to the drug manufacturers.

Prosecutors also argued that the state’s execution protocol has protections to ensure an inmate has been rendered unconscious by sodium thiopenthal before other drugs are administered.

Another federal judge in Phoenix upheld the state’s three-drug execution protocol in 2009. That ruling followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a similar protocol used by Kentucky.

Landrigan was sentenced to death in 1990 after being convicted of first-degree murder in the strangulation and stabbing death of Chester Dyer of Phoenix during a suspected robbery attempt.

Landrigan had been serving a sentence in Oklahoma on a second-degree murder conviction and escaped from a prison work detail about a month before Dyer was killed.

While not publicly identifying the manufacturer of the state’s supply of sodium thiopental, state officials have said the drug has a May 2014 expiration date, was not produced by the sole U.S. manufacturer, and was procured through processes approved by U.S. Customs and U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials.

Landrigan filed an inmate civil rights lawsuit over the drug issue Thursday after a state prosecutor disclosed during a court hearing a day earlier that the U.S. manufacturer didn’t make the drug.

In court papers filed Friday night, Landrigan’s lawyers urged the state Supreme Court to block the execution and overturn a trial judge’s refusal to hold a hearing on newly available DNA evidence.

Landrigan’s lawyers said the new test results, which found DNA from only Dyer and a person other than Landrigan on certain crime-scene evidence, bolster his innocence claim and justify holding a hearing. Prosecutors contend that another person was present at the murder in Dyer’s apartment and that the new test results don’t change anything.

Arizona’s last execution was in 2007.

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