Arizona asks top court to reverse execution ruling

July 22, 2014

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Attorneys for the state of Arizona have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow an execution planned for Wednesday to proceed, saying Joseph Rudolph Wood can't establish he has a First Amendment right to the details he is seeking about his pending death.

The 23-page request for the nation's top court to reverse an appeals court ruling also claims that Wood, who was convicted in the 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father, cannot show his case has a "likelihood of success."

State Attorney General Tom Horne's office filed the request Monday afternoon after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn an earlier ruling that put the execution on hold. Wood had been scheduled to be put to death this Wednesday, but the appeals court said the state must reveal information such as how the state developed its method for legal injections, and who makes the drugs that are used.

Wood argues he has a First Amendment right to the details and that the information is beneficial to the public. But the state's attorneys wrote, "(The) Ninth Circuit has enjoined a state from carrying out a lawful execution so that the inmate can pursue litigation unrelated to the lawfulness of the execution."

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit put the execution on hold Saturday after finding Wood "raised serious questions" about whether he should have access to lethal injection drug information and executioner qualifications. Arizona appealed to the full 11-member court but was denied a rehearing.

The ruling marked the first time an appeals court has delayed an execution based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The fight over the Arizona execution has also attracted attention because of a dissenting judge's comments that made a case for a firing squad as a more human method of execution.

"The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. "Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moment"

It is now up to the nine Supreme Court justices to decide whether Wood can be put to death as scheduled. Wood has also filed separate requests for a stay of execution on different merits.

In a rebuttal to Arizona's request to the Supreme Court, Wood's attorneys said the state's arguments were "unavailing" and misinterpreted the 9th Circuit ruling.

"Although petitioners ask this court to believe that the Court of Appeals took a drastic measure that was inconsistent with this court's precedent and created a new right of access, it did not," Wood's attorneys wrote.

One of Wood's lawyers, Dale Baich, said Monday he is "looking forward to Arizona turning over the information that we requested."

"The 9th Circuit has correctly recognized the importance of the information that Joe Wood sought," Baich said.

The case highlights scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after several controversial executions, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted the process of his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.

States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them, because of concerns over harassment.