Appeals court clears way for Arizona execution

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – An Arizona death row inmate on Friday lost an attempt to block his execution, when a U.S. appeals court ruled authorities can use a controversial drug next week for his lethal injection.

The decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Daniel Wayne Cook failed to show he is likely to face “needless suffering” when given sodium thiopental.

The ruling clears the way for Cook, 49, to be executed on Tuesday morning at a state prison in Florence, Arizona. He was convicted of killing two men in 1987.

Sodium thiopental — one of three widely used to execute U.S. death row inmates — has come under fire nationwide as supplies of the drug dwindle. It is an anesthetic and used to render a person unconscious.

Hospira Inc, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, in January said it would stop making the drug. At the time, a company spokeswoman said it was not intended for use in executions.

The company had planned to manufacture the drug in Italy, but it canceled those plans because the Italian government opposes the death penalty, and Hospira could not guarantee it would not be used for that purpose.

Arizona secured the drug from outside the United States, according to court documents.

The U.S. government has taken control of supplies of sodium thiopental from three states — Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky — as it investigates whether proper procedures were used in importing the drug.

Cook’s attorneys argued past inmates executed with the drug had their eyes open during their execution, but the court was not swayed by that.

“We have no medical or scientific basis for concluding that open eyes reflect a problem with the sodium thiopental or indicate the presence of severe pain,” the court wrote.

On July 19, 1987, Cook and John Matzke tortured their roommate, Carlos Froyan Cruz-Ramos, for several hours before crushing his throat with a metal pipe. All three shared an apartment and worked in the same restaurant.

When another co-worker arrived at the apartment, Cook and Matzke strangled him. Matzke pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against Cook.

Cook is the second Arizona prisoner in recent weeks to appeal based on the choice of drugs for the execution. Eric John King, a convicted murderer, made a similar appeal and was denied and put to death on Tuesday.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Greg McCune)

Appeals court clears way for Arizona execution