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Arizona execution caught in drug supply debate

Claims based on politics, untested evidence and an undisclosed source for a drug in short supply will be debated as Arizona officials wrangle with lawyers for a death row inmate scheduled to be put to death in the state’s first execution since 2007.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments on two defense requests to block Jeffrey Landrigan’s scheduled Oct. 26 execution by lethal injection at a state prison in Florence.

One stay motion contends Landrigan couldn’t get a fair shake from Gov. Jan Brewer because she’s running in the Nov. 2 election and wouldn’t want to appear to be soft on crime in the wake of three other offenders’ escapes from a privately operated state prison near Kingman. Another cites a defense expert’s inadvertent failure to conduct some evidence for DNA.

A third pending defense motion, one that carries threads into other states, asks the court to order Arizona authorities to disclose their source of sodium thiopental, a sedative used to knock out inmates before injecting them with two other drugs to cause death.

Landrigan’s lawyers suggest that using sodium thiopental that has expired or was obtained from an unreliable source may not work correctly, potentially subjecting Landrigan to cruel and unusual punishment through death by suffocation.

Their most recent filing includes a copy of an Oct. 6 court filing in which California prosecutors said the California Department of Corrections on Sept. 30 obtained sodium thiopental that expires in 2014.

It also cited statements by the drug’s U.S. manufacturer, Lake Forest, Ill.,-based Hospira Inc., that its last production lots for the drug had 2011 expiration dates. Given that, company spokesman Dan Rosenberg said in an e-mail Monday, any sodium thiopental with an expiration date of 2014 “cannot be Hospira product.”

Arizona prosecutors say they can’t identify the source of the drug because state law requires confidentiality for those involved with executions.

“And these are public officials who are answerable to the public and have no reason to engage in any wrongdoing,” Kent Cattani, the state’s top death penalty lawyer, said in an interview.

Oklahoma corrections officials obtained sodium thiopental from Arkansas for use in the execution Thursday of Donald Ray Wackerly. Arkansas had some to spare because it didn’t anticipate conducting an execution before the supply’s 2011 expiration date, Deputy Director Wendy Kelley said.

However, Arkansas was not Arizona’s source of the drug, she said.

Landrigan was convicted of murdering Chester Dyer at Dyer’s Phoenix home in 1989 shortly after Landrigan escaped from an Oklahoma prison. And Landrigan’s attorneys said his status as an one-time escapee could prompt an election-minded governor to give him a cold shoulder if the Board of Executive Clemency recommends commutation of Landrigan’s death sentence to life in prison.

The board has scheduled a Friday hearing for Landrigan, assuming his execution is still on track.

“In dealing with such a matter, the governor cannot be insensitive to its political repercussions,” the defense lawyers wrote.

Prosecutors said Monday the argument was speculation.

The defense’s stay request based on DNA evidence said results of testing on Dyer’s pants could point to Landrigan’s innocence. Prosecutors disagree and say they believe another, unidentified person was present besides Landrigan when Dyer was suffocated and stabbed.

One comment

  1. This is why it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. Lethal injection, gas chamber or firing squad. It’s interesting that Landrigan’s attorney considers possible suffocation, “cruel and unsual” punishment, given that Landrigan murdered his victim by suffocation. I just hope that Governor Brewer doesn’t cave in to this political BS!

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