The killer of an American girl has two weeks to decide if he will be executed with cyanide gas, the poison known as “Zyklon B” used by the Nazis to murder millions of people in Auschwitz and other extermination camps during World War II.
The Arizona State Supreme Court issued a death warrant for Frank Atwood which, barring last-minute appeals or a pardon from the governorwill take place on June 8.
The prisoner now has until May 19 to choose his “favorite” method of death: a lethal injection or inhalation. hydrogen cyanide, the main component of Zyklon-B, a poisonous gas made famous by the Nazis as a technique of mass murder during the Holocaust.
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In the United States, only seven states allow the use of lethal gas, but in practice none have used it since 1999 (most executions are carried out by chemical injection), and Atwood’s lawyers are now fighting to persuade the condemned man not to opt for cyanide.
Arizona is the only state that has a gas chamber, after having put into operation one that had not been used in two decades. News that the state spent more than $2,000 buying the ingredients for cyanide gas sparked outrage among Auschwitz survivors in Germany and Israel.
“It is appalling that Arizona has chosen Zyklon-B for this purpose, the chemical used by the Nazis at Auschwitz to kill more than a million people,” said Tim Eckstein, who chairs the Council on Jewish Community Relations at the Great Phoenix (JCRC).
The Arizona execution protocol explicitly states that a prisoner must be executed using 50 mg hydromorphone (painkiller) and 50 mg midazolam (sedative), although their combination can lead to the risk of being ineffective and causing undue suffering.
The last time Arizona used the gas for an execution, the two prisoners suffered painful and prolonged deaths lasting in one case 18 minutes, during which time the prisoner was observed to suffer “agonizing suffocation and retching.”
“Cyanide is as bad as everyone thinks it is; there’s a reason the Nazis used it: it’s a horrible way to die.”said Joseph Perkovich of Phillips Black, a member of Atwood’s legal team, who even proposed changing state law to allow him to be killed by firing squad.
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“Now we are in the position of having to dissuade our client from choosing to enter a cyanide gas chamber, and we have 15 days to do so,” added the lawyer, who recalled that Frank Atwood’s mother was Jewish and fled from the persecution of the Gestapo in Austria in 1939 and was saved from a possible assassination in the Nazi gas chambers.
Atwood, now 66, was sentenced to death for killing an eight-year-old girl, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, in 1984.although he always claimed to be innocent.
Though he insists on his innocence, the condemned man is resigned and leans on his faith as a devout Greek Orthodox Christian. “He is more prepared to get to the end of it than anyone I know,” the attorney said. But the prospect of dying from the effects of cyanide was a complicating factor.
Now Atwood is faced with the choice of dying with this method and, in the event of not making a decision, will be given a lethal injection as the default method of execution and which offers the prospect of an agonizing and torturous death.
Before Atwood, the forecast is that Clarence Dixon will be executed on May 11, convicted of the murder of a student, who was also given two weeks to decide between the gas chamber and lethal injection. His silence meant acceptance of the second option.
The last time Arizona carried out an execution, in July 2014, it took nearly two hours to kill Joseph Wood. with a cocktail of lethal drugs, including the sedative pentobarbital. The prisoner was injected 15 times, but he continued to gasp and swallow a total of 660 times. Before Wood, in 2013 a man died for 17 minutes.
If Atwood takes the hydrogen cyanide option, he would become the first person this century to be executed with the “Holocaust gas”.
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