PHOENIX – The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution for an Arizona inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday.
The court granted the stay for Daniel Wayne Cook until it can consider his lawyers’ argument that he had ineffective counsel during his post-conviction proceedings.
If the court disagrees with Cook’s attorneys, he still could be executed at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Cook’s death warrant expires at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Defense attorney Robin Konrad says she’s “very happy” with the decision and hopes the court “considers this issue seriously.”
Cook was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the gruesome July 1987 killings of 16-year-old Kevin Swaney, and 26-year-old Carlos Cruz-Ramos in Lake Havasu City.
A clemency board voted Thursday against recommending to stop or delay the execution of a death-row inmate convicted of killing two men after raping and torturing them for hours in Lake Havasu City in 1987.
Cook’s lawyers have argued that their client should be given a life term, saying that he suffered from extreme physical and sexual abuse during childhood, and only recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain dysfunction.
Cook attended the hearing by phone, apologizing for the murders and asking the board to show him 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.”
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith argued that Cook should be executed, and said the only reason Superior Court Judge Steven Conn didn’t know about the extent of the abuse Cook experienced was because he chose to represent himself at trial and chose not to discuss the abuse.
He also argued that Cook’s crime is the “worst of the worst.”
“What you have is a horrendous, absolutely horrendous crimes, and two innocent victims who did absolutely nothing in this case,” 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.
Court documents say that Cook and his roommate and co-worker, John Matzke, were drunk and high on methamphetamine when they decided to rob Cruz-Ramos, who lived with the men and worked with them at Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant in Lake Havasu City.
The two got $97 from the Guatemalan immigrant, then overpowered, gagged and tied Cruz-Ramos 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.
Later, Matzke tried to strangle Cruz-Ramos with a sheet. When that didn’t work, Cook and Matzke both pressed down on his throat with a pipe until Matzke stood on it, finally killing Cruz-Ramos, according to court documents.
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 then tied Swaney to a chair and gagged him. Matzke then said he wouldn’t participate in the teen’s torture and fell asleep. He awoke to see the teen crying, and Cook told him that he had sodomized Swaney and that they had to kill him, according to court records.
The two tried to strangle the boy with a sheet, and when that failed, Cook said, “This one’s mine,” and strangled him by hand, Matzke said. 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 July 16, 2007, three days before the 20-year anniversary of the killings.
When questioned, Cook told police that “we got to partying, things got out of hand. Now two people are dead,” and immediately admitted that he killed Swaney and that Matzke killed Cruz-Ramos.
At Cook’s sentencing, the judge said he didn’t believe that there was a connection between Cook’s mental problems and the murders, although he didn’t know about the abuse at the time.
“I almost relish giving you the death penalty because I believe that what you did was so awful,” Conn told Cook. “Society should take your life away from you just as an expression of its revulsion toward the conduct that you have engaged in.”
Cook’s execution was expected to be Arizona’s last use of a controversial three-drug lethal injection method.
Corrections officials have said Arizona will switch to using just one drug in an effort to allay any “perceived concerns” that sodium thiopental is ineffective, but not until after Cook is put to death.
The drug is part of the three-drug lethal injection method used by nearly all 34 death penalty states, but it became scarce last year after the sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making
it. Some states started obtaining sodium thiopental overseas, and lawyers have argued that potentially adulterated, counterfeit or ineffective doses could subject prisoners to extreme pain.
Cook’s attorneys are fighting the use of the drug, even though similar arguments failed to stop or delay the execution in Florence on Tuesday of Eric John King.
Kevin Swaney’s adoptive father, James Swaney, sent a statement to the clemency board saying that 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.”