The Arizona Department of Corrections will use a single dose of the barbiturate
pentobarbital instead of a 3-drug cocktail to carry out Wednesday's execution
of convicted killer Robert Moormann.
And though Death Row defense lawyers have long lobbied for a "1-drug protocol"
as used in other states, the corrections department did not make the change
willingly. According to a notice filed Monday in the Arizona Supreme Court,
corrections officials discovered during a rehearsal for the Wednesday execution
that the supply of pancuronium bromide, the 2nd drug in the 3-drug process, had
passed its expiration date and could not be used.
The current corrections protocol, however, says that such decisions are to be
provided to the inmate in writing 7 days prior to the scheduled execution date.
Ironically, the Corrections Department was sued in December over its inability
to adhere to its own protocol, but a federal judge ruled that the lapses did
not violate constitutional rights.
A new protocol, which gives broad discretion to Corrections Director Charles
Ryan, went into effect on Jan. 25 and authorized the department to use either
the old 3-drug protocol or a 1-drug protocol. But that protocol has the
7-day-notice clause, meaning that the corrections department is already out of
compliance with its new guidelines for executions.
For years, Arizona used a 3-drug combination of the fast-acting barbiturate
sodium thiopental to anesthetize the condemned person, followed by pancuronium
bromide to cause paralysis, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
When thiopental became unavailable in the U.S. in fall 2010, Arizona, like many
states, began purchasing it from Europe on the "gray market." But in June 2011,
days before a scheduled execution, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
informed the Arizona Department of Corrections that its thiopental had not been
legally imported. The department then switched to a three-drug protocol using
pentobarbital instead of thiopental.
Defense attorneys have argued that the 3-drug protocol carries risks of
suffocation and pain. They reason that if the barbiturate wears off
prematurely, the inmate will be conscious but paralyzed and unable to call out
or signal any distress.
Figures released last week by the Federal Public Defender's Office in Phoenix
showed that the last 5 deaths in executions in Ohio using only one drug
occurred about a minute faster than the last 5 in Arizona using 3.
Moormann will be a subject of 2 hearings before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals Monday afternoon.
(source: Arizona Republic)