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Appeals court delays Arizona execution over unknown drug combo

Several states have run into controversy over using secret drug combinations from unknown manufacturers

A U.S. appeals court has ordered the postponement of a scheduled execution of an Arizona man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989 until the state provides more details about the lethal injection procedure he faces.

Joseph Wood, 55, had been slated to be put to death on Wednesday at the state prison complex in Florence, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Saturday in a 2-1 decision that the death row inmate was entitled to more information about the drugs that will be used to end his life and the qualifications of the executioners.

The San Francisco-based court said Wood had raised serious questions about whether his constitutional rights were being violated, and it said the inmate could suffer "irreparable harm" if the information were not first disclosed.

"Since Wood's execution would likely not be delayed much, if at all, by giving him the information he seeks, the public interest factor weighs in Wood's favor," said Judge Sidney Thomas, writing for the majority.

Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, said the decision underlined the public's right to know in the debate over capital punishment in Arizona and beyond.

"The court said it's important that specific and detailed information be provided so the public can know about how safely and reliably the death penalty is administered," Baich said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Arizona's attorney general said the state would ask the full appeals court to reconsider.

Several states have stirred up controversy by using often secret and largely untested batches of chemicals from small “compound pharmacies” as a result of larger drug manufacturers pulling out of making execution drugs. In January, Ohio authorities came under fire after using a combination of drugs never before tried in the U.S. that apparently caused an inmate to gasp and appear in pain before dying.

A botched April execution in Oklahoma, which saw a man die of a heart attack about 30 minutes after the lethal injection failed, was eventually blamed on an IV not being inserted correctly. The White House criticized that execution as falling below humane standards.

Jospeh Wood was convicted in 1991 of walking into an automobile body shop in Tucson and shooting his former girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, 29, to death after fatally shooting her father, Gene Dietz, 55.

Saturday's ruling, which reverses a lower-court decision, requires the state to provide death row inmates with information on the drugs that will be used to kill them, as well as details about the medical personnel who will be involved.

Wood is one of six death row inmates who sued Arizona last month arguing that secrecy surrounding lethal-injection drugs used in botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma violates their constitutional rights.  

Al Jazeera and wire services

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