Arizona refurbishes gas chamber in push to resume executions

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FILE - this this July 23, 2014, file photo, shows the state prison in Florence, Ariz., where corrections officials refurbished the state's gas chamber in December 2020 as the state tries to resume executions after a nearly seven-year hiatus. The last lethal-gas execution in the United States was carried in Arizona in 1999. The state also purchased materials in late 2020 to make hydrogen cyanide gas, which was used in executions in the U.S. and by the Nazi to kill 865,000 Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp alone. (AP Photo/File)

PHOENIX – As it aims to resume executions after a seven-year hiatus, Arizona has refurbished its gas chamber, where the nation's last lethal-gas execution was carried out more than two decades ago before the United States rejected the brutal nature of the deaths.

The state has purchased materials to make hydrogen cyanide gas, which was used in some past U.S. executions and which the Nazis used to kill 865,000 Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp alone.

The secret refurbishment late last year at the prison in Florence, southeast of Phoenix, is drawing criticism as a cruel approach to punishment that is out of touch with modern sensibilities.

“Whether or not one supports the death penalty as a general matter, there is general agreement in American society that a gas devised as a pesticide, and used to eliminate Jews, has no place in the administration of criminal justice,” the American Jewish Committee wrote in a statement this week.

Corrections officials declined to say why they are restarting the gas chamber. However, the move comes as states find it increasingly difficult to secure lethal injection drugs as manufacturers refuse to supply them.

Nationally, executions have neared record lows amid the shortage, though some states are finding ways around it. South Carolina last month passed a law forcing death row inmates to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad.

Arizona also has struggled to find drug suppliers but revealed this spring it had obtained a shipment of pentobarbital.

Corrections officials pointed to statutory and constitutional requirements that let death row prisoners opt for the gas chamber if they were convicted of crimes that occurred before Arizona adopted lethal injection in 1992. The state is one of four with decades-old gas-chamber laws still on the books.