History of the Death Penalty in Arizona

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Method of Execution

Arizona has been executing individuals since long before it became a state. Dolores Moore was the first recorded execution in 1865. The Florence Prison, erected in 1910, became Arizona's first prison and all executions still take place there today.

From 1865–1931, Arizona's executions took place by hanging. That ended when the state convicted Eva Dugan of the murder of her boss, a chicken farmer named Andy Mathis. The rope snapped off Dugan's head, sending her head rolling to stop at the spectators' feet. Witnesses of Eva's execution were so horrified that public outcry led prison officials to switch the method of execution from hanging to lethal gas. Today, Arizona uses lethal injection as the primary mean of execution.

The 1898 hanging of James Fleming Parker in Prescott Arizona

The 1898 hanging of James Fleming Parker in Prescott Arizona
The 1898 hanging of James Fleming Parker in Prescott Arizona

Arizona's Death Penalty Law

Arizona has suspended executions several times throughout its history, usually due to the litigation surrounding the constitutionality of the death penalty, the process for sentencing someone to death, or certain methods of execution. In 1973, in Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all existing death penalty statutes nationwide. The next year, Arizona reinstated and revamped its death penalty scheme. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld death penalty statutes like Arizona's in Gregg v. Georgia. Two years later,the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lockett v. Ohio again invalidated Arizona's death penalty scheme. The Court remanded all death row prisoners for resentencing. Finally, in 1979, the Arizona Legislature revised the state's capital punishment statute.

Arizona's death penalty law was challenged again in 2002, in Ring v. Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court determined in that case that Arizona's death penalty sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because it did not give defendants a right to have a jury choose whether to sentence them to life or death.

Recent Developments

Arizona performed its most recent execution in 2014. Joseph Wood was executed by lethal injection, using a drug cocktail of Midazolam and Hydromorphone. It took him nearly two hours to die. He was given 15 doses. Wood gasped and snorted for over an hour. A federal judge subsequently issued a stay on executions in Arizona.

Joseph Wood was the last inmate to be executed in Arizona in 2014

Joseph Wood was the last inmate to be executed in Arizona in 2014
Joseph Wood was the last inmate to be executed in Arizona in 2014

A federal lawsuit led to a settlement in which the State can no longer use Midazolam in its lethal injection protocol. As such, Arizona has been searching for new lethal injection drugs. However, in recent years, Arizona and other states have struggled to find lethal injection drugs after pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products in lethal injections. In 2015, Arizona tried to import illegal lethal injection drugs from India, but the FDA confiscated the drugs at the Phoenix airport.

Recently, in August 2020, Arizona's Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, announced in a letter to Governor Doug Ducey that he has secured a source of drugs to resume executions. In October 2020, Mr. Brnovich sent a follow-up letter to Governor Ducey stating that the State has also found a compounding pharmacist willing to make the drugs necessary to carry out lethal injection executions. And in March 2021, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry notified the Arizona Attorney General that it was ready to commence executions. In April 2021, Arizona gave notice of its intent to move for warrants of execution for two prisoners.

With these new developments, Arizona is closer to resuming executions than it has been in years.
Currently there are 120 people on Arizona's death row. Twenty-one of the 120 have exhausted all their appeals.

Last updated on April 20, 2021.