Appeals Court Delays Execution Over Drug Secrecy

By Shawn Dwyer 07/21/14

A stay in the execution of Arizona inmate Joseph Wood could find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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A federal appeals court in Arizona has stayed an execution set to take place this week on the grounds that the condemned inmate has a right to know more about the drugs to be used in the lethal injection.

Joseph R. Wood was scheduled to die on Wednesday from lethal injection. He was given the death penalty in 1991 following a conviction for the murder of former girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father Eugene Dietz. Issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District, the ruling cited the ongoing controversy over lethal injection following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma this past June.

“Information concerning execution protocol is not only of general interest to the public, it is important for consideration by the courts...We, and the public, cannot meaningfully evaluate execution protocol cloaked in secrecy,” the ruling stated.

The three-judge panel placed a stay on the execution until the state of Arizona provides more information about the qualifications of the medical personnel who will perform the lethal injection. The reasoning stemmed from the botched Oklahoma execution, which placed part of the blame on the execution personnel failing to properly administer the injection.

“Today the Court has made a well-reasoned ruling affirming the core First Amendment principles regarding the public’s right to know, which aid all parts of our democratic government,” said Dale Baich, an attorney for Wood.

State Attorney General Jeffrey Zick disagreed with the court's decision and stated that Arizona will be asking the full court to consider the opinion. Refusal of such consideration by the court could potentially move the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.