Journalists’ group joins lawsuit in controversial execution case

Gary Grado//September 18, 2014

Journalists’ group joins lawsuit in controversial execution case

Gary Grado//September 18, 2014

First Am coalitionAn out-of-state law firm is representing an Arizona First Amendment advocacy group that hopes to convince a federal judge that the state’s execution procedures are unconstitutional and the state should be required to provide information on the prolonged execution of an Arizona inmate.

Attorneys with Sidley Austin filed documents Sept. 18 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix to join a lawsuit that was filed prior to the July 23 execution of Joseph Wood.

The law firm, which works pro bono for death-row inmates in Alabama, is representing the Arizona First Amendment Coalition, a group that advocates on behalf of the media and the public for more transparency in government.

Wood’s attorneys had filed suit before Wood’s execution and used First Amendment arguments to get information on the Arizona Department of Corrections’ decision-making process for using two unproven drugs in lethal injections.

Wood and other condemned inmates who are party to the suit claim they have a First Amendment right to know about the drugs and procedures used to kill them.

The coalition’s filing adds new claims to the lawsuit on behalf of the press.

The coalition claims the state’s deliberate concealment of information pertaining to executions violates its right of access to a governmental proceeding.

The coalition contends the public has a right to view and hear the execution from the time the inmate is escorted to the death chamber until he is pronounced deceased.

Witnesses are currently allowed to see the insertion of the needles for the lethal injection and the inmate laying on a gurney as he is given drugs by executioners using a machine out of sight.

Wood was the first inmate in the state to be executed using the painkiller hydromorphone and the sedative midazolam.

Executioners gave him 15 doses of the drug combination over the course of a two-hour execution in which witnesses said he gasped over 600 times, likening him to a fish out of water.

The new combination had been used in other states before Wood’s execution and ended similarly, with inmates writhing or gulping.