TUCSON — Several news organizations have filed a lawsuit against Arizona that says the public has a First Amendment right to information about its execution protocols.
The suit, filed Thursday, stems from the July 23 execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood that lasted nearly two hours and required 15 doses of the sedative midazolam and a painkiller. Wood, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father, took deep gasps for more than 90 minutes before he died.
The news organizations filing the lawsuit include The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star, Phoenix TV stations KPNX and KPHO, and Guardian News and Media.
Wood’s defense attorney, Dale Baich, called it a botched execution, a claim Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan adamantly denies. Baich has also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Wood and other death row inmates seeking details about execution protocols and citing the First Amendment.
“No proper basis exists for (the Department of Corrections) to abridge the public’s constitutional right of access to this information and to the execution,” the AP lawsuit states.
Information about Arizona’s lethal injection drugs had been public until 2010, a few months before the state had to find new drugs and a manufacturer after an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company stopped making the drug that had been used for several years.
Since then, officials have refused to disclose the source, composition and quality of the drugs despite public and media requests. The issue has come up in other states as prison officials have refused to release information about execution protocols.
“By protecting the identity of its commercial drug suppliers, the ADC is intentionally thwarting the right of interested parties to engage in constitutionally protected activity, as well as the First Amendment right of plaintiffs to report on the identity and qualifications of drug suppliers, to report on the quality and efficacy of the drugs used, or to report on deviations from the intended protocol,” the lawsuit states.
Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said Monday that the department does not comment on pending litigation. Arizona has less than three weeks to respond to the lawsuit in court.
The lawsuit discusses the long history of executions in Arizona and across the nation, including hangings, the gas chamber and the current method of lethal injection. In those executions, the suit says, states established a precedent over the years to keep the public informed of the methods, such as disclosing the maker of poisons used in gas chambers.
The AP and other media organizations are asking a federal judge to require the state to reveal the details. Magistrate Judge Bridget S. Bade has been assigned to the case.