Jewish Council Calls for Gas Chamber Ban in Arizona

PHOENIX – Calling it barbaric, cruel and unusual – and a painful reminder of the Holocaust for survivors who live here – some Jewish residents are trying to legally block the use of the gas chamber for future executions.

A lawsuit filed by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix and two of its members acknowledges that Arizona voters in 1992 eliminated the use of lethal gas, replacing it with lethal injections. This followed horrific reports of the execution of Don Harding who took 11 minutes to die.

But that 1992 constitutional amendment, approved by a margin of more than 3 to 1, preserved the right for those already on death row to choose either option. And there are 17 now who qualify.

That includes Frank Atwood, convicted of the 1984 murder of Tucsonan 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, and Clarence Dixon who killed an Arizona State University student in 1978.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys said they were not asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah to rule on the legality of the death penalty. But they say this particular practice should be banned.

The issue, according to the lawsuit, begins with the assertion that the use of lethal gas violates a state constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment.

Beyond that, however, they seek to prevent the state from spending more taxpayer money, including that of Holocaust survivors, to hasten the execution of people with the same cyanide gas, called Zyklon B. , which the Nazis used to kill millions of Jews.

The lawsuit includes descriptions of those who witnessed various executions, including the last two here in Arizona.

“The horrors we witnessed included intense convulsions, agonizing gasps, screaming and throbbing in agony, and an individual in so much pain that he repeatedly banged his head against a metal pole,” they said. said the lawyers.

But they say the whole process is “especially harrowing” for Jews and about 80 Holocaust survivors who live in Arizona. And the lawsuit says the plaintiffs have standing because the state is using their tax money to buy the chemicals — as the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation did as recently as in 2020 for their eventual use.

They cited documents, obtained through a public records request, showing the agency purchased a brick of potassium cyanide for $1,529 in December 2020 and sodium hydroxide and acid sulfuric a few days later for 687 dollars.

It is the fall of cyanide into acid that creates the deadly gas.

On top of that, the lawsuit notes that the state spent money testing and repairing the gas chamber.

Allowing cyanide gas executions means “effectively forcing them to subsidize and needlessly relive the same form of cruelty used in the atrocities of World War II.”

“Many of these survivors are horrified to be taxed for carrying out the same mechanism of cruelty that was used to murder their loved ones,” the attorney told the judge.

None of this would be necessary, according to the lawsuit, if Hannah declares that lethal injection of cyanide gas is no longer legal.

According to the lawyers, Arizona is one of seven states that still allow the use of lethal gas. And in three of those states, they say this method is only allowed if the courts prohibit the use of lethal injection.

There was no immediate response from Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who must defend the state against the lawsuit.

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