June 12 (Reuters) - Arizona has agreed to scrap paralytic drugs from its lethal injection mix and allow witnesses to see more of the execution procedure under an overhaul of the state’s death penalty practices, a lawyer for death row inmates said on Monday.
The changes are part of a settlement announced on Monday in federal court in Phoenix in a 2014 lawsuit brought by seven death row inmates who argued Arizona’s lethal injection practices were experimental, secretive and caused inmates prolonged suffering.
Dale Baich, a lawyer for the litigants in the case, said the settlement agreement must be approved by a federal judge.
Representatives for Arizona’s attorney general and the state Department of Corrections could not be reached to comment.
Baich said the agreement, if approved, would mark the first time a U.S. state had agreed to such major changes in its drug protocol and execution procedures because of prisoners’ complaints.
“The state is taking appropriate steps to decrease the risk that prisoners will be tortured to death,” he said.
Under the settlement, Arizona agreed not to use paralytic drugs, which lawyers for the inmates argued hid signs of consciousness and suffering during executions.
The state also agreed to limit the authority of the director of the department of corrections to change execution drugs, and allow a prisoner time to challenge any drug changes, Baich said.
States have been scrambling to find chemicals for lethal injection mixes after U.S. and European pharmaceutical makers placed a sales ban in recent years on drugs for executions because of ethical concerns.
In December, Arizona agreed in the same case to stop using the valium-like sedative midazolam, or related products, as a part of a drug protocol for lethal injections.
Midazolam has been used in troubled executions in Arizona, Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma. In some instances, witnesses said convicted murderers twisted on gurneys before dying.
It was also used along with a narcotic in Arizona’s last execution, which was for convicted murderer Joseph Wood in 2014.
Wood was seen gasping for air during a nearly two-hour procedure where he received 15 rounds of drug injections. Lethal injections typically result in death in a matter of minutes.
Arizona also agreed under the settlement to allow greater transparency by letting witnesses view more of the execution process, including the moment the executioner administers the drugs intravenously, Baich said. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Peter Cooney)