PHOENIX - An attorney for a death-row inmate in Arizona is raising questions about who will carry out the state's executions after the physician who conducted the last five said he won't do them anymore and the other execution team member's arrest record came to light.
In a letter to the Arizona Department of Corrections sent late Wednesday, attorney Dale Baich asked whether a new execution team was in place for the state's upcoming executions, and if so, whether the department has conducted proper background checks and verified the medical licenses of the team.
Baich also pointed out that with the former medical team leader bowing out, the department was left with the team's only other member - a Yuma-based corrections officer who lacks a medical license and has an arrest record for drunken driving and public intoxication.
The officer assisted the medical-team leader on the state's last five executions by inserting intravenous lines.
The identities of both medical team members have been withheld for their protection.
Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux could not immediately say Thursday whether a new execution team has been chosen.
The qualifications of the medical team and other aspects of the way Arizona conducts its execution were the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by Baich arguing the state's execution practices violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Among the suit's claims was that the state deviated from a court-approved execution protocol by using improperly vetted personnel to administer lethal injections under a sheet, away from witnesses' view.
But Baich lost his arguments Dec. 21 when Judge Neil Wake dismissed his lawsuit, saying the state did not violate inmates' constitutional rights by deviating from written execution protocol. Baich is appealing the decision to the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Baich said Thursday the correction officer's arrest record "is a concern" and that his background administering IVs in the military doesn't qualify him to help carry out executions, especially since his service ended in 1996 and he is not a licensed medical professional.
"It's clear that the state did not follow the protocol in the last five executions in terms of selecting the medical team," Baich said.
Meanwhile, the execution-team leader who was in charge of the last five executions, most recently on July 19, said during an hours-long deposition in October that he would no longer participate in executions and didn't know anyone who could take over for him.
The team leader cited the "very unpleasant" deposition that had attorneys questioning his background, medical qualifications and the intricate details of how executions were carried out. "It's not really anything that I care to go through again," he said, according to court records.
In his letter, Baich also raises questions over what drug will be used in the scheduled March 8 execution of his client, Robert Charles Towery, who was convicted of killing a man while robbing his home in 1991.
Another inmate, Robert Henry Moormann, is set to be executed eight days before that, on Feb. 29, for killing and dismembering his adoptive mother in Florence while on a "compassionate" furlough from prison. His lawyers did not return calls for comment Thursday about whether they share Baich's concerns.
Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced in May that the state would be changing its execution protocol and switching from using three drugs to just one.
The announcement came after defense attorneys claimed the state broke federal law when it imported sodium thiopental - one of its execution drugs - from Great Britain. The drug was listed in forms as being intended for "animals (food processing)," rather than humans, and the attorneys argued the drug could lead to severe pain during an execution.
Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani has denied that Arizona broke the law, and said the paperwork mistake came from a clerical error by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
He has said the state is switching to one drug because of a U.S. shortage of sodium thiopental, not because of any alleged ineffectiveness.