Judge rejects Arizona prisoner’s offer to delay execution

PHOENIX — A judge on Saturday rejected an attempt by an Arizona prisoner to delay his execution in the 1984 murder of an 8-year-old girl.

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi’s ruling upholds Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Frank Atwood, who argued that the state’s death penalty proceedings would violate his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting him to pain unimaginable.

His lawyers said Atwood, who suffers from a degenerative spinal condition that left him in a wheelchair, would suffer excruciating pain if he was tied to a stretcher while lying on his back when executed by lethal injection.

Liburdi said he would not block the execution based on Atwood’s claim, noting that the state will provide Atwood with a medical corner that will relieve pressure on his spine and can also tilt the table of execution. He said these accommodations will “minimize the pain the applicant feels when lying on his back”.

The constitution, Liburdi wrote, “does not require painless execution”, and that his position will be similar to what he usually assumes in his cell to limit pain.

Liburdi also dismissed challenges to the drug the state plans to use.

Atwood’s attorneys have already appealed the judge’s decision to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Atwood was convicted of murder in the 1984 murder of Vicki Hoskinson.

Authorities said Atwood kidnapped Hoskinson, whose remains were discovered in the desert northwest of Tucson nearly seven months after he disappeared. Experts could not determine the cause of death from the recovered remains, according to court records.

Atwood maintains that he is innocent of the crimes.

Until last month, Arizona went nearly eight years without an execution. The hiatus was attributed to the difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs as manufacturers refuse to supply them and to problems during the July 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, who received 15 doses of a combination of two drugs for almost two hours. Wood sniffled several times and gasped before dying. His lawyer said the execution was botched.

The hiatus ended May 11 when the state executed prisoner Clarence Dixon for his murder conviction in the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old student at Arizona State University.

As part of Atwood’s argument to delay his execution, his lawyers questioned whether the compound pentobarbital to be used in the execution met pharmaceutical standards and whether the state had met the requirement that the date expiry of the drug falls after the date of execution. They also challenged Arizona’s protocol for gas chamber executions.

Prosecutors say Atwood was trying to postpone his execution indefinitely through legal maneuvering.

Two weeks ago, Atwood refused to choose between lethal injection or the gas chamber, leaving him to be put to death by lethal injection, the state’s default method of execution.

Even though he didn’t choose the gas chamber, he still challenged the state’s deadly gas protocol that calls for the use of hydrogen cyanide gas, which was used in some executions. by the Nazis to kill 865,000 Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp alone. . His lawyers say hydrogen cyanide gas is unconstitutional and produces excruciating levels of pain during executions.

Without explicitly saying that Atwood wants to die near the gas chamber, his lawyers argue that he has the right to choose between constitutional methods of execution and that the state should pass its lethal hydrogen cyanide gas. to nitrogen gas, because nitrogen would produce painless deaths.

Arizona, California, Missouri, and Wyoming are the only states whose decades-old lethal gas enforcement laws are still in effect. Arizona, which carried out the last gas chamber execution in the United States more than two decades ago, is the only state to still have a functioning gas chamber.

In recent years, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama have passed laws allowing executions with nitrogen gas, at least in certain circumstances, although experts say this has never been done and that no state has established a protocol that would allow this.

Atwood’s attorneys also said Arizona could undertake executions by firing squad — a method of execution not used in the state.

Prosecutors say Atwood’s challenge to execution protocols is not intended to downplay the pain he will feel when he is put to death, but rather to delay the execution indefinitely by asking for alternative methods of execution. he knows the state is unable to deliver without significant changes to its enforcement protocol and the state constitution.

ABC News

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