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Brnovich urges Ducey to start executions again in Arizona

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Now that the federal government plans to resume capital punishment, Arizona should as well, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Thursday that the Department of Justice would resume executions of federal death row inmates for the first time in nearly two decades, stating that “we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

Brnovich echoed Barr in a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey.

 “Justice must be done for the victims of these heinous crimes and their families. Those who committed the ultimate crime deserve the ultimate punishment,” Brnovich wrote on Friday.

Brnovich  requested the governor assist the Arizona Department of Corrections obtain the drugs needed to perform lethal injections on the state’s 14 death row inmates who have exhausted all of their appeals.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan has twice changed the state’s protocol for lethal injections since 2014, the last time Arizona executed an inmate. 

Ryan did away with the two-drug procedure used to execute Joseph Wood, who took two hours to die after he was administered a combination of hydromorphone, a painkiller, and midazolam, a sedative. The same mix of drugs was used months earlier in Ohio and left a prisoner choking and snorting for 19 minutes as he died in January 2014.

Ryan initially implemented a three-drug procedure that was never used. Instead, the department again changed the protocol in 2017, calling for the use one of two drugs – sodium pentothal or pentobarbital – in a move that met the demands of attorneys representing seven Arizona inmates on death row.

During that time, Arizona officials tried and failed to import sodium thiopental from India in order to perform lethal injections. Those drugs were seized at Sky Harbor International Airport by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 – FDA officials said the drugs appeared to contain unapproved and misbranded drugs

Under Barr’s orders, the federal government will use pentobarbital to begin executions again in December and January. Brnovich inferred that Barr would not have made the announcement if pentobarbital wasn’t available for use, the attorney general wrote to Ducey.

“In order to administer the lawfully imposed death sentences in accordance with the Arizona Constitution, my office respectfully requests your assistance in obtaining pentobarbital,” he wrote. “We stand ready to vigorously defend you and the Department of Corrections in this effort and urge you to act without delay.”

Brnovich added that a recent Justice Department opinion clears the way for Arizona to import pentobarbital without interference from the FDA. 

A spokesman for Ducey said the governor is reviewing the letter.

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