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Arizona renovates gas chamber to resume executions


PHOENIX — As it aims to resume executions after a seven-year hiatus, Arizona has refurbished its gas chamber, where the nation’s last lethal-gas before the United States dismissed the brutal nature of the deaths. The execution was done more than two decades ago. .

The state has purchased materials to make hydrogen cyanide gas, which was used in some previous American executions and the Nazis killed 865,000 Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp alone.

The secret renovation late last year at a prison in Florence, southeast of Phoenix, is attracting criticism as a brutal approach to punishment out of touch with modern sensibilities.

“Whether or not one supports the death penalty as a general matter, there is general consensus in American society that the gas prepared as a pesticide, and used to exterminate Jews, is no one in the administration of criminal justice.” There is no place,” the American Jewish Committee wrote in a statement this week.

Corrections officials declined to say why they were restarting the gas chamber. However, the move comes at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for states to secure lethal injection drugs as manufacturers refuse to supply them.

Nationally, the death penalty has reached record lows amid shortages, although some states are exploring ways around it. South Carolina last month passed a law allowing death row prisoners to choose between an electric chair or a newly formed firing squad.

Arizona has also struggled to find drug suppliers, but learned this spring that it had received a shipment of pentobarbital.

Corrections officials pointed to statutory and constitutional requirements to allow death row prisoners to opt for gas chambers if they were convicted of crimes that preceded Arizona’s adoption of lethal injection in 1992. The state is one of four with decades-old gas-chamber laws. Books.

It is not clear whether any of Arizona’s death row inmates expressed a preference for the method.

The state Department of Corrections said in a statement that it is “ready to fulfill its constitutional obligations, fulfill court orders and bring justice to the families of the victims.”

Lawyers practicing capital punishment law in Arizona say its execution protocol had no provision for gas chamber executions from 2007 until the policies were amended this year.

Dale Bitch, head of the unit in the Federal Public Defender’s Office, which represents Arizona prisoners in appeals for the death penalty, said he thinks the state wants the gas chamber to function if there are 17 eligible death row inmates. Either one chooses it.

“My guess is that because there are 17 people, the department wants to be prepared,” Bach said.

The state’s efforts to get its gas chambers operating again were revealed in records obtained by the Guardian newspaper. State officials later released the documents to other news organizations, including The Associated Press.

Records show that in December authorities purchased a brick of potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide pellet and sulfuric acid to produce cyanide gas.

The rubber seals on the doors and windows of the chamber hatch were replaced. The exhaust fan in the chemical mixing room was repaired. Rust was cleaned from the surfaces. The lever on the chamber needs to be lubricated.

According to records, a candle was lit near the doors and windows to test the air tightness of the chamber, and a smoke grenade was vented inside to make sure the fan and vents were working. .

The execution was halted in Arizona after the 2014 death of Joseph Wood, who gasped for air and was injected with 15 doses of the two-drug combination over two hours. Wood was executed in Tucson in 1989 for the shootings of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and his father, Eugene Dietz.

Two months ago, prosecutors indicated they would try to kill two inmates, Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon.

Dixon was sentenced to death in 1978 for the murder of 21-year-old Dina Bowdoin in Maricopa County. Atwood was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder of 8-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson, whose body was found in the desert outside Tucson.

The horrific nature of gas-chamber deaths and the advent of lethal-injection turned the United States against lethal gas, said Fordham Law School professor Deborah Deno, who has studied executions for more than 25 years.

Historical accounts of gas-chamber executions show prisoners gasping for breath, beating their restrained bodies and in excruciating pain. A condemned man in Mississippi repeatedly banged his head against a steel pole during his 1983 execution.

The last prisoner in a US gas chamber was Walter LaGrand, the second of two German brothers sentenced to death for the 1982 murder of a bank manager in southern Arizona. It took 18 minutes for LaGrand to die in 1999.

The two brothers chose the gas chamber in the hope that the courts would consider the method unconstitutional. While Karl LaGrand accepted the state’s last-minute proposal for lethal injection, Walter LaGrand declined it, stating that he would prefer a more painful execution to oppose the death penalty.

The case drew widespread criticism in Germany, which does not carry the death penalty, and prompted repeated diplomatic protests.

The refurbishment of Arizona’s gas chamber is again being condemned internationally, with coverage in Israel and Germany paralleling the Holocaust atrocities.

Asked to comment on the criticism, Doug Ducey, a spokesman for Republican Gov. C.J. Karmergin, said, “Govt. Ducey is following the law as it’s written in the Constitution of Arizona. In many of these cases the victims are victims of justice.” have been waiting for a long time.

In “The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber,” author Scott Christiansen states that 594 people died in lethal-gas executions in the United States from 1924 to 1999.

Although the Nazis are believed by some to have invented the gas chamber, the first one designed for hanging was built in Nevada and first used in 1924, Christianson wrote.

The chamber was a byproduct of chemical warfare research conducted by the US military and chemical industry during World War I. The Third Reich later expanded its use on an industrial scale to kill millions of people, he wrote.

“Even after Auschwitz, it still took more than 50 years for gas-chamber executions to end in the United States,” Christiansen wrote in his 2010 book.

Lethal-gas execution laws remain on the books in Arizona, California, Missouri and Wyoming.

In recent years, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama have passed laws allowing execution with nitrogen gas, at least in some circumstances, although experts say this has never been done and no state has established a protocol. Haven’t installed that will allow it.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which has criticized how executions are carried out in the United States, said Arizona officials should recognize the effects that led to the gas chambers, the Zyclone B by the Nazis. Given its use, a pesticide had hydrogen cyanide gas in the form of its lethal component.

“You have to wonder what they were thinking seriously enough to believe that ingesting a prisoner with cyanide gas is morally acceptable in 2021,” Dunham said. ———

Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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