When Arizona prison officials injected condemned rapist and murderer Richard Stokley with a fatal drug dose last month, it marked the state’s sixth execution of the year in the nation’s second busiest death chamber, says the San Jose Mercury News. Now that California voters in November narrowly preserved the death penalty, Arizona’s path could foreshadow the future for California, where not a single one of the 729 death row inmates have marched to execution in seven years.
As in California, interminable legal tangles once shut down Arizona’s death penalty system as the state executed only one inmate, who volunteered to die, from 2001 to 2010. But Arizona emerged from numerous court battles that removed all of the legal roadblocks. The result has been 11 executions since October 2010, nearly the number California has carried out since it restored the death penalty in 1978. Significantly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not intervened. Legal challenges holding up California’s executions are expected to resume this year. “I do think eventually the cases all come to an end,” said Dale Baich, who represents Arizona death row inmates. “But (in California) it might be later than sooner.” In fact, the timetable may still be measured in years. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says it could take three years for executions to resume, particularly because of the lingering legal cloud over the state’s lethal injection procedures.