Arizona high court allows execution to proceed

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by The Associated Press

Video report by Javier Soto

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 7:15 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 25 at 11:18 AM

FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) -- The highest courts in Arizona and the nation have cleared the way for the state to carry out its third execution in the last year Wednesday, following a closely watched First Amendment fight over the secrecy surrounding lethal injection drugs.

Joseph Rudolph Wood, 55, was scheduled to be put to death at the state prison in Florence amid new scrutiny nationwide over lethal injections after several controversial executions.

Wood's lawyers used a new legal tactic in which defense attorneys claim their clients' First Amendment rights are being violated by the government's refusal to reveal details about lethal injection drugs. Wood's lawyers were seeking information about the two-drug combination that will be used to kill him, including the makers of the drugs.

A federal appeals court ruled in Wood's favor before the U.S. Supreme Court put the execution back on track Tuesday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision marked the first time an appeals court has acted to delay an execution based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The 9th Circuit gave new hope to death penalty opponents. While many death row inmates have made the same First Amendment argument as Wood, the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic. The court has ruled against them each time the transparency issue has come before the justices.

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.

Wood later lost a separate last-ditch appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court early Wednesday.

Then, the Arizona Supreme Court delayed the execution scheduled for Wednesday morning to consider a last-minute appeal. The appeal focused on arguments that Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing, along with a challenge about the secrecy of the lethal injection drugs.

About an hour later, the state's high court allowed the execution to proceed, and prison officials told witnesses to return to the execution chamber at 1 p.m.

Wood was sentenced to death for killing Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene Dietz, in 1989 at the family's automotive shop in Tucson.

Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.

On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Dietz's father, who disapproved of his daughter's relationship with Wood, to get off the phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the chest and then smiled.

Wood then turned his attention toward Debra Dietz, who was trying to telephone for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, "I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you." He then called her an expletive and fired two shots in her chest.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office, said the agency had no comment on the Supreme Court ruling but would issue a statement after Wood's execution.

Wood's attorney Baich, said, "The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect is harmful to our democracy because it prevents the public, the courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in compliance with all state and federal laws."

Arizona has executed 36 inmates since 1992. The two most recent executions occurred in October.

Two recent executions in other parts of the country have helped revive the death penalty debate in the U.S.

An Ohio inmate in January 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.

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 humane 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," wrote Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit's chief judge. "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."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Arizona high court delays planned execution

FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) -- Arizona's highest court on Wednesday temporarily halted the execution of a condemned inmate so it could consider a last-minute appeal.

Joseph Rudolph Wood, 55, was scheduled to be put to death Wednesday morning at the state prison in Florence, but that was delayed when the Arizona Supreme Court said it would consider whether he received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing.

The appeal also challenges the secrecy of the lethal injection process and the drugs that are used.

The state Supreme Court could still allow the execution to move forward later Wednesday once it considers the arguments.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Arizona to carry out its third execution in the last year following a closely watched First Amendment fight over the secrecy issue.

Wood's lawyers used a new legal tactic in which defense attorneys claim their clients' First Amendment rights are being violated by the government's refusal to reveal details about lethal injection drugs. Wood's lawyers were seeking information about the two-drug combination that will be used to kill him, including the makers of the drugs.

A federal appeals court ruled in Wood's favor before the U.S. Supreme Court put the execution back on track. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision marked the first time an appeals court has acted to delay an execution based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The 9th Circuit gave new hope to death penalty opponents. While many death row inmates have made the same First Amendment argument as Wood, the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic. The court has ruled against them each time the transparency issue has come before the justices.

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.

Wood also lost a different, last-ditch appeal in the Supreme Court early Wednesday.

Wood was sentenced to death for killing Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene Dietz, in 1989 at the family's automotive shop in Tucson.

Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.

On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Dietz's father, who disapproved of his daughter's relationship with Wood, to get off the phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the chest and then smiled.

Wood then turned his attention toward Debra Dietz, who was trying to telephone for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, "I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you." He then called her an expletive and fired two shots in her chest.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office, said the agency had no comment on the Supreme Court ruling but would issue a statement after Wood's execution.

Wood's attorney Dale Baich said, "The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect is harmful to our democracy because it prevents the public, the courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in compliance with all state and federal laws."

Arizona has executed 36 inmates since 1992. The two most recent executions occurred in October.

Two recent executions in other parts of the country have helped revive the death penalty debate in the U.S.

An Ohio inmate in January 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.

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 humane 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," wrote Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit's chief judge. "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."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Execution of convicted murderer to go ahead today

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed an Arizona execution to go forward amid a closely watched First Amendment fight over the secrecy surrounding lethal injection drugs in the country.

The court ruled in favor of Arizona officials in the case of Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was convicted of murder in the 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father. The state plans to execute him Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Wood, 55, argued he has a First Amendment right to details about the state's method for lethal injections, the qualifications of the executioner and who makes the drugs. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases in recent months.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put Wood's execution on hold, saying the state must reveal the information. That marked the first time an appeals court has acted to 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 9th Circuit gave new hope to death penalty opponents. While many death row inmates have made the same First Amendment argument as Wood, other appeals courts have shot them down. But the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the defense lawyers' latest arguments, ruling against them each time the transparency issue has come before the justices.

Had the Supreme Court upheld the 9th Circuit's judgment, "the whole country would likely be affected," Dieter said.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office, said the agency had no comment on the Supreme Court ruling but will issue a statement after Wood's execution.

Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, said, "The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect is harmful to our democracy because it prevents the public, the courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in compliance with all state and federal laws."

Wood has one more appeal for a stay of execution pending before the 9th Circuit, Baich said. The habeas corpus challenge to his conviction and sentence will be decided by Wednesday.

Wood's 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.

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

"(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," the state's attorneys wrote.

The high court's short order Tuesday afternoon didn't delve into the issue but simply said the appeals court's judgment is vacated.

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," wrote Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit's chief judge. "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."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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