Six death row inmates, including one scheduled to die July 23, sued the state today in federal court, alleging the secrecy surrounding the lethal drugs to be used in executions violates their First Amendment rights.
The inmates are asking U.S. District Court in Phoenix to keep the state from hiding any information about executions except the names of people involved in them. The inmates assert that the secrecy keeps them from mounting a case to challenge their executions in court.
Joseph Wood III, who is convicted of killing his girlfriend and her father in 1989, is set to be executed next month. The Arizona Department of Corrections has withheld information he requested, citing a law that protects the identity of “executioners and other persons who participate” in executions. A federal judge ruled last year against the state for not disclosing information on the lethal drugs in a similar challenge.
The department has indicated it intends to use Midazolam and Hydromorphone, a sedative and pain killer respectively, in Wood’s execution.
That drug combination was used in Ohio on Jan. 16 to execute Dennis McGuire. Witnesses said the prisoner’s death was prolonged and he seemed to struggle in his restraints and gasp for air.
Arizona has indicated it will double the dose given the Ohio inmate.
The inmates allege that the department’s use of the drugs is “an experiment on death-row prisoners” because they aren’t being used in the course of medical practice.