Lawsuit against Arizona over executions could be put on hold



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TUCSON, Arizona — A lawsuit challenging the secrecy of execution protocols in Arizona will likely be put on hold pending the investigation of the nearly two-hour execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood last summer.

Both the state and defense attorneys have agreed to request that the lawsuit be halted temporarily until the review of an investigation by an independent agency is released. That report, by a group of former prison directors, was expected to be released in mid-November but it so far has not come out.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Wood and other death-row inmates says they and the public have a right to know about specific execution protocols such as the types of drugs used in lethal injections and the companies that supply them.

The July 23 execution of Wood, convicted of murdering his estranged girlfriend and her father, called into question the efficacy of the drugs used after it took nearly two hours for Wood to die. He gasped repeatedly before taking his final breath.

Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, says the execution was botched, a claim Arizona Department of Corrections officials adamantly deny. A spokesman for the agency could not be reached for comment late Friday evening.

State officials have agreed to not seek any death warrants while the case is pending. The mutual agreement also states that Arizona officials will consider changing execution protocols. If they do change them, they will make the new protocols public, according to the joint agreement.

"The whole purpose of this is to put the litigation on hold so the facts and issues could be better developed," Baich said.

The secrecy that surrounds executions in Arizona and other states has been a source of contention since they stopped making public details such as the drug manufacturers and drug combinations in 2010. That's when states that have the death penalty began having trouble accessing the necessary drugs because European drugmakers stopped supplying them.

A group of media organizations including The Associated Press has filed a lawsuit also contending that the information is of public interest and the public has a right to know.

Wood was given 15 doses of the sedative midazolam and a painkiller before he died.

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