The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a last-minute appeal and cleared the way for execution of death row inmate Joseph Wood, ruling against his claim that he should have been able to present evidence of mental illness during sentencing in his trial for murder.
The state's high court earlier in the day had briefly stayed the execution, but then ruled against Wood's claim that his trial attorney failed to present evidence of mental illness, including brain damage, that could have spared him from a capital sentence.
Wood, 55, was sentenced to death for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, in Tucson. The execution had originally been set for Wednesday morning.
Attorney Dale Baich, who was appointed to represent Wood nine weeks ago, said the defense had recently discovered information that should have been presented when Wood was sentenced to death in 1991. His state-appointed counsel at the time was not properly funded and could not order all the tests and evaluations necessary, Baich said.
Now that Wood has been evaluated, the defense argued in court documents, it is apparent that he suffers from brain injuries and mental illness that, combined with his use of methamphetamines at the time he committed his crime, might have constituted a mental impairment sufficient to be considered during sentencing.
“Had this evidence been presented at trial,” Wood’s motion to the state high court said, it would have been a “mitigating factor because the evidence demonstrates that an organic brain impairment or mental illness was a significant cause of the offense.”
“When defendants have been able to make this causative showing -- that they were significantly volitionally impaired -- the Arizona Supreme Court has implicitly determined that a defendant’s moral culpability and blameworthiness is sufficiently lessened to warrant reductions in capital sentences to life imprisonment,” Baich argued in the court documents.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a separate plea by Wood to delay his execution until the state turned over detailed information on the drugs that would be used during his execution, as well as an argument based on the qualifications of his execution team.
Arizona has executed 36 inmates since 1992. The two most recent took place in October, making Wood the first execution in the state this year.
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