NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)– In a legal response to a lawsuit in the Arizona Supreme Court, the attorneys for Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-Arizona) said the state can’t execute a death row inmate at this time because her administration, “inherited a deeply broken corrections system.”
One of the people who oversaw executions in Arizona last year was recently hired to lead the Tennessee Department of Correction and fix the state’s execution problems.
In November 2022, the execution for Murray Hooper took longer than expected.
According to witnesses to the Arizona man’s execution, it took 20 minutes for executioners to insert the lethal injection IV.
“Mr. Hooper looked at the witnesses and said, ‘can you believe this?,'” former Assistant Federal Public Defender and former lawyer for Hooper, Dale Baich, recalled from reporting of that day.
Even once the IV was inserted through a vein near Hooper’s groin and the drug flowed, witnesses estimate it took about 15 minutes for him to be pronounced dead.
According to the Associated Press, then-Deputy Director of Corrections Frank Strada announced Hooper’s death.
“Mr. Strada was in a leadership role in Arizona in 2022 when executions were carried out and there were three problematic executions,” said Baich. “He was featured prominently in how Arizona carried out executions in 2022.”
In January, Strada was picked by Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) to lead Tennessee’s Department of Correction. Days before the announcement, an independent investigation found the department failed to follow lethal injection protocols.
Baich says the issues Strada was hired to fix at TDOC are similar to the ones he faced in Arizona after the state resumed executions last year after a nearly eight-year pause.
“With the first execution, Clarence Dixon, there were problems, and those problems weren’t corrected moving forward,” Baich said. “I think the people of Tennessee should be very concerned and should insist on transparency and oversight.”
In addition to claiming the system she inherited was broken, in the documents submitted to the Arizona Supreme Court, attorneys for the Governor detail other issues they claim need to be fixed within their Department of Corrections.
“Inquiries have revealed cause for concern with the Department’s present ability to carry out an execution consistent with its constitutional and legal obligations,” one part reads.
“Thus far, the new Director has been unable to locate sufficient documentation to understand key aspects of ADCRR’s recent execution practices,” it goes on to say.
“Among the items, the Director has been unable to verify are the qualifications of the pharmacist who compounded the currently available drugs,” it adds.
When asked about his choice for commissioner, a spokesperson for Lee said they have faith in Strada’s abilities to lead.
“Commissioner Strada has had a distinguished career with nearly 35 years of corrections management and law enforcement experience, and we have full confidence that he will lead the department with integrity,” the spokesperson said.
The executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Richard Dieter, noted the task of carrying out executions is difficult and leaders in the space have multiple people they need to report to.
“It’s not just one or two states, but many of the states are having trouble either obtaining the drugs they want to use for lethal injections or administering them in a humane and difficult way,” Dieter said. “It’s not about getting the best person to do it, it’s about examining the system.”
However, Dieter said he isn’t sure why Lee went with Strada.
“It certainly doesn’t seem like a natural choice to pick someone who had supervision over troubled executions to bring into your state to avoid troubled executions,” he said.
In response to a request for comment or an interview, the Tennessee Department of Correction said the commissioner is focused on Tennessee and committed to making the “appropriate operation updates to ensure procedures are followed correctly.”