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Prison officials looking for new ways to carry out executions in Arizona

ExecutionThe Arizona Department of Corrections is searching for a consultant to look at alternative methods of execution and other lethal injection drugs, according to documents detailing work to be done in reviewing the execution of Joseph Wood.

The state put out for bid the job of reviewing Wood’s execution and policies related to it on July 29, but canceled it today and will reissue it Thursday, said department spokesman Doug Nick.

Nick said the department put out the “Request for Quote” informally, but the State Procurement Office asked that it be done formally through the office.

Wood’s attorney, Dale Baich, had called for an independent review of the execution, but he said he is skeptical because the request shows the department isn’t looking for anyone with medical expertise.

Nick said he doesn’t know if the scope of the work will change on the reissued request.

One of the jobs in the original bid request was to assess “other methods of execution and trends.”

Lethal injection is the primary method used by 35 states, the military and the U.S. government in carrying out executions, but many states have the electric chair, gas chamber, hanging gallows and firing squads as secondary methods.

Arizona allows inmates who were sentenced before November 1992, which is when lethal injection was adopted, a choice between the needle and the gas chamber.

The procurement documents indicate the consultant also was to look at the “feasibility of obtaining other fast-acting barbiturates besides pentobarbital,” the drug used in 11 executions since 2011. The state switched to the new drug combination when pentobarbital became scarce nationally after its maker, Lundbeck, began requiring buyers in 2011 to agree not to distribute to U.S. prisons for executions.

That is the reason the state switched to using the combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller, in heavy doses.

Ohio used that combination, except in smaller doses, for the first time Jan. 16. Witnesses to that execution said the inmate, Dennis McGuire, was gasping and struggling in his restraints for a prolonged time.

Witnesses to Wood’s July 23 execution say he gasped for air over 600 times and snorted during his nearly two hours on the gurney.

The review became necessary after Gov. Jan Brewer became concerned about the length of time it took to kill Wood, but the governor already declared the execution lawful 90 minutes after it ended.

All of Arizona’s previous lethal injection executions lasted no more than 15 minutes as the inmate seemed to simply fall asleep. The department released execution logs Aug. 1 showing Wood was given 15 massive doses of a drug combination.  Department policy calls for a second dose only if the inmate is still conscious after three minutes.

According to the procurement document, the department is looking for someone with experience “pertaining (to) the oversight and/or administration of execution protocols and executions within a state prison.”

It appears from the document the consultant will also simply review the evidence gathered by the department’s Inspector General, an investigative arm of the department that reports to Director Charles Ryan.

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