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Inmates sue over execution protocol

Three inmates on Arizona’s death row have sued the governor, the state corrections director and those who conduct executions, arguing that a new execution protocol violates their constitutional rights.

In a filing obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, the inmates’ attorneys argue that the new protocol — made public last month — gives too much discretion to Arizona Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan.

The protocol says that Ryan can decide with which and how many drugs to execute inmates. He has also loosened requirements for those who inject the lethal drugs.

Before, everyone on Arizona’s execution team needed to have at least one year of current experience with starting intravenous lines. Now, the protocol says that those on the execution team need only have past experience starting IV lines and that Ryan can decide whether someone on the medical team is “appropriately trained.”

“The Department of Corrections undid the constitutional protections that were built into the previous protocol and now gives total discretion to the director,” said Dale Baich, the attorney who represents one of the inmates in the lawsuit.

Matt Benson, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, said the governor “is confident that the procedures followed by the Arizona Department of Corrections are in accordance with state and federal law.”

Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. He said last week that the department hasn’t lowered standards in its new execution protocol and changed it merely to simplify it.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Arizona on Monday, seeks to have two upcoming executions delayed as the litigation plays out. The lawsuit argues that giving Ryan discretion to execute one inmate one way and another inmate in a different way violates prisoners’ rights.

“Clear standards must exist, and deviations from those standards result in equal protection violations,” the lawsuit says.

Baich also argues that the last time Ryan chose an execution team, one of its members had an arrest record that didn’t come to light until after he had helped conduct the state’s past five executions by inserting IV lines.

Court records show the team member, a Yuma-based corrections officer, had been arrested for drunken driving and public intoxication, didn’t have a medical license, and last inserted IV lines on a regular basis in the mid-1990s when he was in the military.

It’s unclear whether the officer is still on the execution team.

The inmates suing include Robert Henry Moormann, who is set to be executed on Feb. 29 for killing and dismembering his adoptive mother in Florence while on a “compassionate” furlough from prison. Robert Charles Towery, who was convicted of killing a man while robbing his home in 1991, is set for execution March 8 and is named in the suit.

The third inmate suing is Pete Rogovich, who was sentenced to death for a 1992 crime spree in which he fatally shot four people and robbed two businesses. His execution hasn’t been scheduled.

The Department of Corrections unexpectedly changed its execution protocol last month following a separate lawsuit over the qualifications of the execution team and other aspects of the way Arizona conducts its executions.

Among the suit’s claims was that the state deviated from the previous court-approved execution protocol by using improperly vetted personnel to administer lethal injections under a sheet, away from witnesses’ view.

Judge Neil Wake dismissed his lawsuit on Dec. 21, saying the state did not violate inmates’ constitutional rights by deviating from written execution protocol. Baich is appealing the decision.

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