PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Arizona Supreme Court is allowing the execution of a condemned inmate to proceed after considering a last-minute appeal that put his lethal injection on hold.
Preparations for Joseph Rudolph Wood's 10 a.m. Wednesday execution at the state prison in Florence were underway when the stay was ordered. The warrant for Wood's execution is valid until 10 a.m. Thursday. Wood, 55, killed his girlfriend and her father in 1989.
The appeal focused on arguments that Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing, along with a challenge about the secrecy of the lethal injection drugs.
The Arizona Supreme Court temporarily halted Wood's execution scheduled for Wednesday morning, but then rejected the appeal and said the execution could proceed.
In the order halting the execution, the court said "the execution of Mr. Wood is stayed pending the Court's consideration of his petition for review of the denial of post-conviction relief."
Officials at the state prison have told witnesses to return to the execution chamber at 1 p.m. MST.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld Arizona's veil of secrecy around its lethal-injection drugs, permitting plans for Wednesday's execution to proceed.
Executions are public events. But in recent years, many states that still have capital punishment, including Arizona, have passed or expanded laws that shroud the procedures in secrecy.
The Arizona Department of Corrections plans to use a controversial drug, and it favors a controversial method of administering it, so Wood's attorneys demanded to know the qualifications of the executioners and the origin of the drugs to be used in the execution, claiming that Wood had a First Amendment right to the information.
On Saturday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which lifted the stay without addressing the First Amendment issue.
State officials said in court filings that they need to maintain secrecy because publicity has made it more difficult to obtain the drugs needed to carry out executions.
Drug manufacturers have begun refusing to sell to departments of corrections, forcing the departments to experiment with new and less reliable drugs or to specially order them from compounding pharmacies, which in turn are harassed by anti-death-penalty activists.
"Prisoners who are sentenced to death for their crimes have every right to know what drugs are going to be used," said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, "but it would be a bad matter of policy if the manufacturer of these drugs were identified. The very reason we have a new drug protocol is because of the pressure and threats applied to the companies ... forcing them to stop making it."
It was not the first time the Supreme Court has ruled against a stay of execution based on drug secrecy. In 2010, it ruled against an Arizona prisoner asserting his right to know about lethal-injection drugs that turned out to have been improperly obtained from overseas.
The U.S. District and Circuit Courts in Washington, D.C., later determined federal law had been violated, which the Arizona Attorney General's Office denies.
"In most respects, what Mr. Wood is asking for is quite small," said Megan McCracken, a former federal defender who works with the University of California-Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic. "I think they don't want to set precedent about giving out information, and they don't want to come under scrutiny."
Wood was sentenced to death for killing Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene Dietz, in 1989 at the family's automotive shop in Tucson.
Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.
Contributing: The Associated Press