Comments Off on Arizona death-row inmate’s clemency request denied

PHOENIX (AP) — A clemency board on Thursday decided not to intervene in the case of a death-row inmate who is scheduled to be executed next week for killing two men after raping and torturing them for hours.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency discussed the severe sexual and psychological abuse that inmate Daniel Wayne Cook suffered as a child but ruled in a 4-1 vote that his crime 24 years ago was too severe to recommend he escape the death penalty and get a life sentence instead.

The board also voted 4-1 against recommending to the governor that Cook’s execution be delayed based on questions over the drugs that will be used to kill him at the state prison in Florence on Tuesday.

Cook’s lawyers argued that the state broke federal law when it imported the sedative sodium thiopental and the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide, because they were listed in forms as being intended for “animals (food processing)” rather than humans. His lawyers say the sodium thiopental could be ineffective, leading to severe pain during an execution.

Defense Attorney Dale Baich also argued that Cook shouldn’t be executed until the state implements a new single-drug method of lethal injection, a change that Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced last week because of “perceived concerns” about the current three-drug method.

Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani denied that the state broke the law and said the paperwork mistake came from a clerical error by the Food and Drug Administration. The state is switching to one drug because of a U.S. shortage of sodium thiopental, not because of any alleged ineffectiveness, Cattani said.

Board member Jack LaSota cast the lone dissenting vote over the issue, saying, “I’m not too thrilled by the drug importation.”

Cook still has three appeals in federal courts over the drug issues and his abuse as a child.

In the effort to stop Cook’s death sentence altogether, his attorneys told the clemency board that he suffered from extreme physical and sexual abuse during childhood, and only recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain dysfunction. He 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.

The prosecutor who tried Cook in 1988 signed a statement saying he never would have sought the death penalty had he known the extent of abuse that Cook underwent.

Cattani argued that the only reason the abuse was not known at trial was because Cook chose to represent himself and didn’t tell Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven Conn about the abuse. Conn later said knowing about the abuse wouldn’t have changed his decision.

“I almost relish giving you the death penalty because I believe that what you did was so awful,” Conn told Cook at his sentencing. “Society should take your life away from you just as an expression of its revulsion toward the conduct that you have engaged in.”

Cook spoke to the clemency board by phone, apologizing for the murders and asking the members to show mercy.

“For nearly 24 years there has not been a day that’s gone by that I have not thought of (the victims) and their families,” Cook said from a state prison in Florence. “I do know, however, that no matter how agonizing this might have been to me, it must pale in comparison to the suffering I’ve caused. … I’ve never been more sorry in my life than I am for this.”

Cattani argued that Cook’s crime is the “worst of the worst.”

“What you have is horrendous, absolutely horrendous crimes, and two innocent victims who did absolutely nothing in this case,” Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said.

Cook was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the gruesome July 19, 1987, killings of Kevin Swaney, 16, and Carlos Cruz-Ramos, 26, in Lake Havasu City.

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 the Guatemalan immigrant, 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 on his stomach and genitals, 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 up 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.

Cook was arrested after Matzke went to police. Matzke later testified against Cook to get a lighter sentence; he was released in 2007.

Cruz-Ramos’ family lives in Guatemala and couldn’t be reached. But Kevin Swaney’s adoptive father, James Swaney, sent a statement to the clemency board saying Cook will experience a peaceful and dignified death, unlike his son or Cruz-Ramos.

“This heinous and barbaric crime served no purpose other than to torture two men for hours and murder them in cold blood and throw them in a closet as if they were no more than dirty laundry,” Swaney said. “Daniel Cook saw no compassion for the humanity of these men, and in their final hours they suffered horrific pain, anguish and terror beyond our understanding. … If Daniel Cook believes in God maybe he can find a reason to forgive him. We cannot.”

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