Arizona prisoner to die by lethal injection, not gas chamber

An Arizona prisoner scheduled to be executed in three weeks for two murders in 1980 is executed by lethal injection. He becomes the third convict to reject lethal gas since the state renovated the chamber where he carried out the last U.S. execution using natural gas more than 20 years ago.

Lawyers for Murray Hooper said Wednesday that he refused to choose a method of execution when corrections officers asked him whether he wanted to die by lethal injection or in the gas chamber. Lethal injection is Arizona’s standard method of execution when condemned prisoners refuse to make a choice.

His lawyers declined to comment on the method by which he would be executed on November 16 for the killing of William ‘Pat’ Redmond and his mother-in-law, Helen Phelps.

The last lethal gas execution in the United States was in Arizona in 1999. The state gas chamber at the prison in Florence, southeast of Phoenix, was dormant when Arizona began using lethal injections.

Correctional facility officials have refused to say why they renovated the gas chamber and bought materials to produce hydrogen cyanide gas, which was used in some previous executions in the US and in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Death penalty experts say the United States switched to lethal injection because of the horrifying nature of gas executions, which they say are slow, leaving those sentenced gasping for air and flailing in their bonds while in what appears to be excruciating pain.

Arizona, California, Missouri and Wyoming are the only states with old gas execution laws still on the books. Arizona is the only one left with a working gas chamber.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School who has studied executions for more than 25 years, said it is not uncommon for death row inmates to refuse to fill out execution method forms because, in convicts who are depressed and resigned, probably not the case focused on how they are killed.

“This is not as important in their minds as it might seem to someone who is not in their position,” Denno said.

According to authorities, Redmond and Phelps were killed after Hooper and two other men broke into Redmond’s home on December 31, 1980. Redmond’s wife, Marilyn, was shot in the head but survived and testified against Hooper.

Lawyers for Hooper say he is innocent and was in Chicago at the time of the murders. Two other men, William Bracy and Edward McCall, were convicted of the murders but died before their executions could be carried out.

Authorities say Robert Cruz, who is said to have had ties to organized crime, hired Hooper, Bracy and McCall to kill Pat Redmond, who co-owned a printing company. They said Cruz wanted to take over the business and was unhappy that Redmond had turned down his bids to secure several printing deals with Las Vegas hotels, according to court documents. In 1995, Cruz was acquitted of both counts of murder.

Hooper would be the third Arizona prisoner to be executed since the state resumed executions in May, after a nearly eight-year hiatus attributed to the difficulty in obtaining lethal injectable drugs and criticism for botching a 2014 execution had been.

In recent years, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama have enacted laws allowing executions with nitrogen gas, at least in certain circumstances, although experts say this has never been done and no state has established a protocol that would allow it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The last inmate to be executed in a US gas chamber was Walter LaGrand, the second of two German brothers sentenced to death for the 1982 killing of a bank director in southern Arizona. It took LaGrand 18 minutes to die.

The sanitation of the Arizona gas chamber was condemned internationally, including reporting in Israel and Germany that drew parallels to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

According to prosecutors, 111 prisoners remain on Arizona’s death row and 22 have exhausted their appeals.

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