The Arizona Department of Corrections denied a request from The Arizona Republic to serve as a media witness to a prisoner execution on May 11, 2022. Over the next six months, the Republic was barred from attending two additional executions.
The Republic, Arizona’s largest newspaper by circulation, historically was granted access to witness executions and has widely reported on the state’s death penalty. In 2014, a Republic reporter was a media witness and wrote about the prolonged and difficult execution of Joseph Wood. That execution was cited in the then-governor’s decision to order a review of the death penalty process, which led to the state halting executions for eight years. More recently, the Republic reported on the state’s beleaguered prison health care system and investigated the effectiveness of the lethal injections used by the department.
Republic reporter Jimmy Jenkins told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker his requests to serve as a media witness, beginning with the May execution of Clarence Dixon, were denied by the department. Executive Editor Greg Burton contacted Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, which oversees ADOC, regarding the newspaper’s May exclusion. According to the Republic, Ducey’s chief of staff told Burton the news organization might be treated differently if it did not print “false information.”
Since then, the Republic’s requests to witness the June execution of Frank Atwood and Nov. 16 execution of Murray Hopper were also denied by the ADOC. Other media organizations were allowed to witness the executions.
The ADOC did not directly respond to emailed questions from the Tracker. Instead, an official shared a copy of the department’s manual citing guidelines on selecting media witnesses to executions.
Attorney David Bodney, who represents Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., the publisher of the Republic and azcentral.com, told the Tracker in an email that the denials were retaliatory and in violation of state law.
“The Department’s continued and unreasonable denial of The Republic’s requests seems nothing short of retribution for the newspaper’s detailed yet fair reporting on Arizona’s prisons,” Bodney said. “The law does not permit the government to deny access on this basis.”