ARIZONA – Motion denied to watch executions by injection

May 31, 2012 Source :

Despite strong language from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a 2002 appeals-court ruling, a federal judge in Phoenix on Wednesday denied motions to allow attorneys and reporters to watch as executioners insert the catheters that carry the drugs used in lethal injections for condemned prisoners.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix and other defense attorneys have complained about the practices of the Arizona Department of Corrections in carrying out executions by lethal injection. Among the concerns are the qualifications of those who insert IV lines into the condemned prisoners and why they repeatedly fail to find suitable veins in the prisoner’s arms and must resort to a surgically installed catheter in the groin area.

On May 15, the day before death-row prisoner Samuel Lopez was to be executed for the 1986 murder of a Phoenix woman, his attorneys filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, asking to be allowed to witness the catheterization. Wake did not rule on the motion. But the subject had come up in oral arguments on May 14 in a last-ditch appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Of concern in that appeal was a March execution in which the condemned man was not allowed to speak to his attorney when prison staff was unable to find a suitable vein in his arm and instead inserted the catheter in his groin.

The appeals court refused to stop Lopez’s execution, but one of the judges questioned why the media had not insisted on being present when the lines were inserted. The state of Ohio and California allow such witnessing, and a 2002 9th Circuit opinion ruled that the public has a First Amendment right to witness all aspects of an execution.

Lopez subsequently received a reprieve from the Arizona Supreme Court until June 27 because of problems with the state clemency board.

A coalition of Arizona journalism groups took up the challenge and asked to become part of the lawsuit over the Corrections Department policies.

That same day, another group of journalists in Idaho filed its own lawsuit asking to witness the preparation process on First Amendment grounds.

But Wake denied the Arizona motions Wednesday, citing technicalities in the timing of the motion and saying that a First Amendment violation had not been properly claimed.

Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender’s Office said his office had not yet decided how to proceed.

Dan Barr, an attorney who represents the Arizona journalists, said his options would be to wait for Baich to amend his motion or file a separate lawsuit to assert the journalists’ claims.

“The whole trick is bringing up the issue in the right form and the right time,” Barr said.

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