Arizona court approves fifth execution this year

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday approved the execution of a death-row inmate who was spared from the death penalty last year after winning a last-minute delay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Daniel Wayne Cook, 50, is now scheduled for execution on Aug. 8 at the state prison in Florence.

Cook was sentenced to death for killing a 26-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, Carlos Cruz-Ramos, and a 16-year-old boy, Kevin Swaney, in 1987, after police say he tortured and raped them for hours in his apartment in Lake Havasu City in far western Arizona.

Cook had been scheduled for execution on April 5 of last year, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a last-minute stay to consider whether he had ineffective counsel during his post-conviction proceedings. They since have turned him down.

Another death-row inmate, Samuel Villegas Lopez, is set to be executed in two weeks.

Lopez would become the fourth inmate executed in Arizona this year, while Cook would become the fifth. Two other inmates who are nearing the end of their appeals could bring the number of executions in the state this year to seven.

That would make Arizona one of the busiest death-penalty states in America and match the state's all-time busiest year for executions since establishing the death penalty in 1910. That was seven executions in 1999.

Analysts attribute the uptick in Arizona to a coincidence in inmates coming to the end of their appeals and strong support for the death penalty in the state.

So far this year, 20 men have been executed in eight states, led by Texas with five executions and followed by Missouri with four. Arizona and Oklahoma each have had three, Florida has had two, and Ohio, Delaware, and Idaho have each had one, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that collects and analyzes information on the death penalty.

Court documents say that Cook and his roommate and co-worker, John Matzke, were drunk and high on methamphetamine when they stole $97 from Cruz-Ramos, who worked with the men at a Bob's Big Boy Restaurant and had just moved in with them. After they robbed Cruz-Ramos, they overpowered him, gagged him and tied him to a chair.

Over the next six hours, Cruz-Ramos was cut with a knife, sodomized by Cook, burned with cigarettes, and beaten with fists, a metal pipe, and a wooden stick, according to court documents. After both men tried to strangle Cruz-Ramos, Matzke said he stood on a pipe over his throat until he died.

Swaney, a runaway and occasional guest at the apartment who also worked at the Big Boy, showed up about two hours later.

Cook and Matzke tied him naked to a chair and gagged him, but Matzke said he wouldn't participate in the teen's torture and fell asleep. He awoke to see Swaney crying, and Cook told him that he had sodomized the teen and that they had to kill him, according to court records.

The two tried to strangle the boy with a sheet. When that failed, Cook said, "This one's mine," and strangled him by hand, according to Matzke. They put Swaney's body in the closet on top of Cruz-Ramos.

Court records say his heart was still beating when he was left for dead.

Cook was arrested after Matzke went to police the next day. Matzke later testified against Cook to get a lighter sentence and was released in 2007.

Cook's attorneys had been arguing that his previous lawyers were ineffective because they did not present Judge Steven Conn with evidence that Cook endured extreme physical and sexual abuse during his childhood.

Cook suffered numerous rapes at the hands of family members and a group-home worker, was burned with cigarettes and was forced to have sex with his sister, according to attorneys and court documents.

Cook has acknowledged his guilt but had been arguing for a sentence of life in prison. He only recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain dysfunction stemming from the abuse, and the prosecutor who tried Cook in 1988 has said he would not have sought the death penalty had he known about it.

Prosecutors have blamed Cook for the oversight since he represented himself at trial and didn't tell the judge about the abuse.