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Judge denies Arizona prisoner’s request to stay execution

PHOENIX – A federal judge has denied an Arizona prisoner’s request to delay his execution in the 1984 killing of an 8-year-old girl, according to the ruling released Sunday.

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi’s decision keeps Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Frank Atwood, who argued that the state’s death penalty process would violate his constitutional right to cruel and unusual punishment by inflicting unimaginable pain on him.

His lawyers said Atwood, who has a degenerative spinal condition that left him confined to a wheelchair, would suffer excruciating suffering if he was strapped to a stretcher while lying on his back during his fatal injection.

Liburdi said in Saturday’s decision that he would not block the execution based on Atwood’s allegation, noting that the state would provide Atwood with a medical wedge to relieve pressure on his spine and also tilt the execution table could. He said these adjustments “will minimize the plaintiff’s pain when lying on his back.”

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The constitution, Liburdi wrote, “does not require a painless execution,” and that Atwood’s position is similar to that he normally assumes in his cell to limit pain.

Liburdi also dismissed challenges to the drug the state plans to use and dismissed Atwood’s claim about Arizona’s use of the gas chamber, saying it was irrelevant since he would be executed by lethal injection.

The challenge to his method of execution is one of Atwood’s barrage of last-minute appeals. He is also asking the Arizona Supreme Court to stay his execution while his attorneys investigate claims that he is indeed innocent of killing the little girl. That court refused a stay late last week but is now considering the new lawsuit.

And his lawyers continue to quarrel with the state over religious accommodations before and during his execution. He has been a Greek Orthodox believer for more than two decades and wants the state to allow him to undergo a religious initiation ceremony before execution and receive last rites in the execution chamber. The state has largely reached an agreement, but both sides are arguing about the exact details. Another federal judge is handling this matter.

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“The state’s insistence on cyanide gas is a cynical decision to force acceptance of the danger and incompetence of its deadly injection method at the expense of adopting Nazi methods of mass destruction,” Joseph Perkovich, an attorney for Atwood, said in an E- Mail Sunday.

Atwood was convicted of the 1984 murder of Vicki Hoskinson.

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

Atwood claims he is innocent of the crimes.

As of last month, Arizona has not carried out an execution for nearly eight years. The disruption was attributed to the difficulty of sourcing lethal injectable drugs, as manufacturers refused to supply them, and to problems encountered during the July 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, who administered 15 doses of a two-drug combination over nearly two hours were administered. Wood repeatedly huffed and gasped before dying. His lawyer said the execution was botched.

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

As part of Atwood’s argument to delay his execution, his attorneys questioned whether the compound pentobarbital to be used in the execution met pharmaceutical standards and whether the state complied with a requirement that the drug’s expiration date be after execution date is.

Prosecutors say Atwood tried to indefinitely delay his execution through judicial maneuvers.

Two weeks ago, Atwood refused to choose between lethal injection or the gas chamber and had him executed by lethal injection, the state’s standard method of execution.

Arizona, California, Missouri and Wyoming are the only states with decades-old lethal gas execution laws still on the books. Arizona, which carried out the last execution in a gas chamber in the United States more than two decades ago, is the only state left with a functioning gas chamber.

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

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

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/05/judge-rejects-arizona-prisoners-bid-to-delay-execution/ Judge denies Arizona prisoner’s request to stay execution

Sarah Y. Kim

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