PHOENIX – Arizona has agreed to settle part of a lawsuit by promising it won't again use the sedative midazolam as part of a three-drug combination while carrying out the death penalty.
The state didn't acknowledge any liability in settling the claim that the use of midazolam doesn't ensure that inmates won't feel the pain caused by another drug in the combination.
A remaining claim in the lawsuit alleges the state has abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of drugs used in past executions.
Executions were put on hold in the state after the 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly two hours to die. His attorney said the execution was botched.
Executions in Arizona will remain on hold until the entire lawsuit is resolved.
Similar challenges to the death penalty are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.
States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections.
The agreement filed in court Monday in Arizona came six months after the state said it had eliminated its use of midazolam because its supply had expired and another supplier couldn't be found amid pressure from death penalty opponents.
The judge who has the final say on whether the settlement takes effect has expressed concerns in the past over whether the state's promise not to use midazolam could be reversed by a future state prisons director.
The settlement deal specifies that the promise applies to future prison directors and imposes consequences for breaching the agreement.
Under the agreement, if the state intends on using the drug again, inmates could resurrect the midazolam claim and a permanent prohibition on using the drug would take effect.
Private lawyers who have racked up legal fees in representing inmates in the lawsuit say they won't seek reimbursement from the state on the midazolam claim if Arizona keeps its promise.
"There is a financial incentive for the state never to use midazolam," said Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who also represents the inmates in the lawsuit.
The Arizona Department of Corrections and attorney general's office, which is representing the state, didn't immediately return requests Tuesday for comment on the agreement.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud.