Death Penalty

Arizona executioners sometimes improvise, lawsuits say

Arizona officials often depart from the state’s execution protocol, according to evidence cited in lawsuits challenging the practices.

The New York Times has a report. “Improvisation is not unusual for Arizona,” the story says, “where corrections officials and medical staff members routinely deviate from the state’s written rules for conducting executions, state records and court filings show. Sometimes they improvise even while a convict is strapped to a table in the execution chamber and waiting for the drugs coursing through his veins to take effect.”

Corrections director Charles Ryan has said in depositions that he has discretion to depart from the protocol, the Times says. He apparently did so in the execution last month of Joseph Wood, who received 15 doses of the execution drug, despite a protocol calling for only two doses. Wood appeared to gasp for air during the procedure and took nearly two hours to die.

In another instance in 2012, the story says, state corrections officials decided to switch drugs for two executions because the expiration date had passed for the drugs they planned to use. The switch led the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to complain that Arizona “has insisted on amending its execution protocol on an ad hoc basis.” The court allowed the two executions to proceed, however, and no problems were apparent.

And in a 2010 execution, a doctor testified in a deposition, Ryan requested that extra execution drugs be administered, though the doctor advised against it because it could lead to a ruptured vein. When the injection proved problematic, Ryan then agreed with the doctor to stop, the Times says.

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