Does Arizona Have The Death Penalty?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

The state of Arizona is one that most people in the United States know thanks to its distinctive name and its place in America’s past. It is a state many people associate with the cowboys of the past and there are still many ranches dotted all over the state. 

If you live in Arizona, you might be curious about certain aspects of the state’s law. For example, you might wonder – does Arizona have the Death Penalty?

This article will tell you exactly whether or not the state of Arizona has the death penalty and all you need to know about capital punishment in the state. 

Does Arizona Have The Death Penalty?

Let’s start by answering the most straightforward question first – does Arizona have the Death Penalty or not?

Arizona does indeed have the death penalty with the most recent execution being of Joseph Wood in 2014. Since then, there has been a suspension on executions however the law governing them has not been suspended or repealed. 

Arizona’s history with the death penalty is a long and complex one and this article will explain how the state has strongly supported the death penalty from even before it was a state. 

Does Arizona Have The Death Penalty

The History Of The Death Penalty In Arizona 

The first execution that occurred in Arizona happened in 1865. In 1865 Arizona wasn’t even a state but a federal territory. Indeed, Arizona wouldn’t gain statehood until 1912. The first execution that occurred when the state was under the auspices of the United States was that of Dolores Moore. 

Moore was reportedly executed for the murder of her husband. Moore would be the first person but certainly not the last to be executed in Arizona. Moore was also the first person to be hanged, the official means of executing a person in Arizona for decades. 

However, hanging would eventually fall out of fashion and be discontinued as a means of execution in the 1930s. This would be because of the botched execution of murderer and suspected serial killer Eve Dugan. 

Dugan was convicted in 1930 for the murder of her former employer Andrew J Mathis, a wealthy chicken ranch owner who had employed Duggan to be a housekeeper. However, when Dugan’s cooking and cleaning seemed to be less than satisfactory, he fired her. Bent on revenge Dugan murdered Mathis using an ax and then disposed of his body in his own Dodge car. 

When the authorities eventually caught up with Dugan, they discovered that all five of her husbands had disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Though it couldn’t be proved at the time many people believe that Duggan in fact murdered them, making her a highly prolific serial killer. 

Dugan became even more infamous, however, because of how she died. Sentenced to be hanged, Dugan remained resolute declaring at least she would die in her boots, unlike the various “old coots” she said made up the jury. 

Dugan certainly would die in her boots – however it would be in a spectacular manner. Rather than simply breaking her neck, the rope which was used to hang her ended up removing her head in its entirety! Dugan’s head rolled over to the feet of her witnesses, squirting blood as it did so. All five witnesses, two women and three men, collapsed at the grisly sight. 

Dugan’s execution would be the death nail for hanging as a form of execution in Arizona – although there were two more executions by hanging the chosen form of execution from 1934 onwards would be the gas chamber. 

The Gas Chamber itself would eventually be outlawed as a means of execution in the state following a 1992 vote that deemed that the lethal injection was a better means of executing convicted killers.

However, those who were sentenced prior to 1992 and have not been executed can decided whether or not they wish to be killed via the gas chamber or the lethal injection. 

The change from the Gas Chamber to the lethal injection, like the switch from hanging to the gas chamber was the result of an execution that went wrong.

That was the 1992 execution of Donald Eugene Harding, a serial robber and spree killer who was convicted for the murders of Robert Wise and Martin Concannon in the January of 1980. 

Harding had killed both men in order to rob them. Harding, although only convicted for two murders in Arizona is believed to have murdered seven people in total in a crime spree that saw him crisscross state lines in order to get money. 

Hardin’s death in the gas chamber was apparently particularly gruesome and lasted eleven minutes. Indeed, the Attorney General at the time, who witnessed Harding’s execution said that despite his support of the death penalty Harding’s execution made him feel physically sick. 

Yet, as seems to have become a pattern with Arizona, each method of execution has caused controversy and been ended due to a particularly gruesome death. This was the case in 2014 with the execution of Joseph Wood.

Wood, who had been convicted of the murder of his girlfriend and her father in 1989, was sentenced to be executed using a cocktail of two drugs as part of a lethal injection. 

The same cocktail had only been used once before in an American execution – that of Dennis McGuire in Ohio which had been a botched execution – McGuire had taken twenty-five minutes to die and, in that time, he had gasped for air, snorted and writhed around on the ground. 

Given the botched nature of McGuire’s execution it might have been thought that the same cocktail of drugs would not be used for Wood’s execution. However, this wasn’t to be the case and they were both used during Wood’s execution. 

Wood’s death was worse than McGuire’s with it taking nearly two hours for him to die. As a result of the macabre end for Wood a hold was put on executions in Arizona and an execution has not been had since.

The state has, however, attempted to keep a good supply of lethal injections in case the pause is lifted – indeed the state attempted to illegally import drugs from India in 2015 which were seized at an airport. 

It is perhaps slightly ironic that the reason that Arizona went to the lethal injection as opposed to the gas chamber as its means for executing convicts was safety given that, between 1890 and 2010 the number of botched executions by lethal injections was 7%, higher than any other form of execution. 

Does Arizona Have The Death Penalty

Why It Is Important To Know About The Death Penalty In Arizona 

The death penalty is a controversial subject. There are many people, particularly in states such as Arizona, that view the death penalty as an essential part of the law enforcement measures in their state. There are many others who see it as not simply an abhorrent means of execution but also one that is ineffective. 

As such, it is important that people across the United States can have a proper conversation on the rights and wrongs of the death sentence so that a true consensus can be reached. Only then can the US move forward in any meaningful way to a brighter future.