The Arizona Supreme Court has halted the planned execution of inmate Donald Beaty, who was scheduled to be given a lethal injection Wednesday morning for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old Tempe girl in 1984.
The temporary stay of execution was issued late Tuesday night after Arizona officials said they had planned to replace one of three drugs to be used in the execution because federal officials contended the state failed to fill out a form to import the drug being swapped out.
That prompted Beaty’s lawyers to file motions seeking the stay of execution from the state’s highest court and the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, arguing he hadn’t had adequate opportunity to review the late change in drug protocol.
Defense attorney Dale Baich said “a rush to execute Beaty under these circumstances would be unconscionable.”
The court set a hearing on the matter for Wednesday morning.
The attorney general’s office notified the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Corrections Department would replace sodium thiopental with another sedative — pentobarbital.
The state’s filing said the Corrections Department was making the swap because a U.S. Justice Department official told the state the Drug Enforcement Administration believes the Corrections Department “failed to fill out one of the forms necessary for importation of sodium thiopental from a foreign source.”
Defense lawyers for Arizona death row inmates for months have questioned whether the state legally imported its supply of sodium thiopental. State officials previously acknowledged a miscoding on an importation form but insisted they acted legally in obtaining a supply of sodium thiopental from a British supplier last year.
“The question of whether the Department of Corrections legally imported the drug has now been answered,” Baich said before the temporary stay was granted.
Several other states have already switched to pentobarbital because sodium thiopental is in short supply nationally, and state Corrections Director Charles Ryan has said previously that Arizona planned to switch to that drug also.
DEA officials seized several states’ supplies of sodium thiopental because of importation issues.
The Arizona filing said DEA “has not taken any action against the Arizona Department of Corrections to date” and that the Justice Department official who contacted the department Tuesday “offered no explanation for the timing of the call.”
Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment.
Natasha Minsker, death penalty policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said Arizona’s “11th-hour switch to another execution drug” was unconscionable.
“Rather than rushing to change the rules to carry out an execution, we all should be asking why state and federal officials failed for months to follow or enforce the law,” Minsker said in a statement.