Arizona will execute killer after court rejects last-minute appeal

PHOENIX Wed Jul 23, 2014 4:11pm EDT

Joseph Wood is pictured in this undated handout booking photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Corrections.  REUTERS/Arizona Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters

Joseph Wood is pictured in this undated handout booking photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Credit: Reuters/Arizona Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona's Supreme Court cleared the way on Wednesday for a convicted double-murderer to be put to death, lifting a hold after reviewing a last-minute appeal that involved questions about the lethal drug cocktail to be used in the execution.

Joseph Wood, 55, was one of six death row inmates who sued Arizona last month arguing that secrecy surrounding the drugs used in botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma violated their constitutional rights.

Wood had been due to be put to death on Wednesday morning, but his lawyers filed an emergency appeal arguing, among other things, that the planned use of an experimental combination of drugs in the execution violated his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed to consider the appeal on Wednesday morning and briefly put the execution on hold, but it later lifted that suspension after denying the appeal, according to the court order.

Wood is scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday, sometime after 1 p.m. MST (2000 GMT), in the state prison in Florence, about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Phoenix, said a state Department of Corrections spokesman.

The execution had previously been put on hold by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said on Saturday that Wood could suffer "irreparable harm" unless the state divulged information about the drugs and the qualifications of the medical staff conducting the execution.

But on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Arizona attorney general and lifted the stay of execution. The high court on Wednesday denied another last-minute bid to put the execution on hold.

Two problematic executions this year renewed controversy over capital punishment and the way it is carried out.

In January, convicted rapist and murderer Dennis McGuire was put to death in Ohio using a sedative-painkiller mix of midazolam and hydromorphone, the first such combination administered for a lethal injection in the United States. The execution took about 25 minutes to complete, with McGuire reportedly convulsing and gasping for breath.

In Oklahoma in April, convicted killer Clayton Lockett writhed in pain and a needle became dislodged during his lethal injection at a state prison. The execution was halted, but Lockett died about 30 minutes later of a heart attack.

Arizona, which has executed 36 people since reinstating the death penalty in 1992, says it will also use midazolam and hydromorphone but in higher doses than in Ohio.

Arizona's last execution took place in October 2013. Twenty-five people have been put to death nationwide this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)