Arizona execution is back on as Supreme Court reverses 9th Circuit

Joseph Wood
Joseph Wood
(Arizona Department of Corrections/ Associated Press)

Arizona’s execution of Joseph Wood was back on for Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a preliminary injunction imposed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In overturning the 9th Circuit on Tuesday, the high court said a district court judge had not abused his discretion in denying Wood’s motion for an injunction.

Wood, 55, contends that Arizona is violating his 1st Amendment rights in denying him information about the lethal drugs that will be used in his execution and the qualifications of his execution team.


He is scheduled to die for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, in Tucson.

On July 11, a federal judge refused Wood’s plea for a stay of his execution. Woods appealed to the 9th Circuit, which granted the stay Saturday. Arizona asked the full 9th Circuit to hear the case; it refused. Arizona then turned to the high court.

Dale Baich, an attorney for Wood, disputed the decision.

“The secrecy which Arizona has 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,” Baich said in a statement. “If Mr. Wood’s execution moves forward, it will proceed with serious questions remaining about the drugs used and the training and expertise of the execution team.”

States have faced problems obtaining lethal-injection drugs, prompting them to alter drugs and procedures.

The arguments by Wood’s attorneys are an example of a new legal tactic in death penalty cases after several botched executions this year, especially that of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. Lockett writhed, groaned and tried to sit up after the lethal drugs were administered, until officials called off his execution. He died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the lethal drugs were administered.

Arizona attorneys contend there is no 1st Amendment right to the information Wood is seeking.

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