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July 23, 2014

After SCOTUS vacates First Amendment stay, Arizona Supreme Court delays execution

As reported in this new AP story, after the US Supreme Court late yesterday vacated the novel stay imposed by the Ninth Circuit based on lethal injection drug secrecy concern, "Arizona's highest court on Wednesday temporarily halted the execution of a condemned inmate so it could consider a last-minute appeal."  Here is more:

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....

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

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

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July 23, 2014 at 02:04 PM | Permalink


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I don't personally buy the First Amendment argument either (there was a Supreme Court case within the past two or three years about FOIA in Virginia that denied out of state citizens from sending in a request. I would imagine if there wasn't a first amendment right to obtain information in that case there wouldn't be one in this case. That being said, I am surprised the Supreme Court wouldn't at least let the case get briefed in the 9th Circuit rather than reversing summarily.

Glad the Arizona Supreme Court will hear it. Maybe there can be a non-constitutional ground that would actually allow the defendant access to the information in order to effectively challenge the method of execution.

Posted by: Erik M | Jul 23, 2014 2:53:02 PM

I see he DOES have a third name. Perhaps, he is guilty.

Seriously, repeatedly these cases clear the federal courts and somehow a state court decides for the prisoner somehow. See, e.g., the Tison case.


I too hope some settlement is made -- think the secrecy is a due process / 8A problem.


Posted by: Joe | Jul 23, 2014 4:38:57 PM

Well, I have to completely retract that last paragraph of my last post. Apparently, as I was posting it, the state of Arizona attempted to execute Mr. Wood. According to reports from the Associated Press, the execution took two hours to complete:


Posted by: Erik M | Jul 23, 2014 7:13:48 PM

That's that.

I stand by my comment -- I hoped, didn't happen & the state might determine that providing access would have be better in the long run.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 23, 2014 8:34:37 PM

Erik M,

How exactly would SCOTUS have had the ninth hear the case? It was a appeals court panel that entered the stay, not the district court. And the ninth circuit had already decided not hear take the case en banc.

As I understand things the only choices SCOTUS had were to (1) do nothing and let the stay stand (2) schedule the case for full briefing, hearing and decision or (3) summarily reverse (as they did). I don't think SCOTUS has power to direct the appeals courts to take a case they've already passed on.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 23, 2014 11:04:17 PM

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