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Arizona execution drug case heads to Supreme Court

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A case challenging Arizona’s refusal to reveal detailed information about the lethal combination it will use to put an inmate to death is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied Arizona’s request for a re-hearing after a three-member panel of judges put on hold the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood until the state reveals information, such as such as the makers of the drugs and how the state developed its method for legal injections.

The legal dispute comes at a time when concerns over the death penalty are mounting 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.

Wood’s attorneys argue that he has a First Amendment right to detailed information and that such information has been historically available and beneficial to the public.

Attorneys for the state argue that Wood does not have a right to the details.

Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, says the state will file an application with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to dismiss the stay on the execution.

The three-judge panel Saturday overturned a lower court’s decision that had favored the state, a ruling that postponed the execution.

The panel wrote: “Wood has raised serious questions on the merits as to the positive role that access to lethal injection drug information and executioner qualifications will have in the public debate on methods of execution.”

Judge Jay Bybee, a member of the panel, dissented.

Arizona attorneys then sought a re-hearing with a larger panel, arguing that the smaller panel’s decision conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings that found that the First Amendment does not mandate a right of access to government information or sources of information.

The appeals court did not provide a detailed explanation as to why it was denying the re-hearing.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski dissented from that decision.

“I have little doubt that the Supreme Court will thwart this latest attempt to interfere with the State of Arizona’s efforts to carry out its lawful sentence and bring Wood to justice for the heinous crimes he committed a quarter century ago,” Kozinski wrote.

Dale Baich, an attorney for Wood, said his team is “looking forward to Arizona turning over the information that we requested.”

“The 9th Circuit has correctly recognized the importance of the information that Joe Wood sought,” Baich said.

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