The Arizona Department of Corrections hasn’t violated the rights of death-row prisoners in its execution process, a federal judge ruled today.
Lawyers for the prisoners claimed the state was using unscreened personnel to administer lethal injections under a sheet, away from the view of witnesses.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake said evidence did not show a violation of constitutional rights.
It was the second time Wake had signed off on the constitutionality of the state’s step-by-step execution protocol. He ruled in 2009 that lawyers in a different case hadn’t shown that inmates’ constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment were substantially jeopardized.
Wake heard arguments earlier this month on the complaint filed by federal public defenders on behalf of inmates.
Attorney Cary Sandman told Wake that previous assurances by corrections Director Charles Ryan that the state would follow its protocol have been unreliable.
Ryan testified that he used his discretion to allow a physician who has led the injection team during the past five executions to decide whether to use injections in the groin-area instead of a limb, as called for in the protocol.
Ryan said Arizona, like many other execution states, previously used injections in inmates’ arms, but the doctor said groin-area injections are more reliable.
He also said it’s sufficient for the warden in the injection room to see the injections and alert the injection team about any problems, while a sheet draped over most of the inmate’s body blocks it from the view of witnesses in an adjacent room.
Testimony also focused on the state’s acquisition of a once widely used but now federally unapproved execution drug from a seller in Great Britain.
Inmate attorney Dale Baich said the state’s willingness to skirt accepted procedures in getting the drug “does not give confidence that executions will be carried out in a humane and safe manner.”
Assistant Attorney General Jeff Zick said the allegations hadn’t been supported with any proof that inmates were actually subjected to substantial risks, whether from drugs or procedures.
Ryan testified that none of the five inmates executed since the 2009 ruling had complained of pain or discomfort before the procedure.
Calls by The Associated Press to Baich and Sandman for comment on Wake’s ruling weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.