The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for an Arizona death-row inmate Monday, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to die by injection for the gruesome 1987 killings of a man and a teenage boy after he tortured and raped them for hours.
The ruling means the execution of Daniel Wayne Cook, 49, is on hold while the high court considers his lawyers’ argument that he had ineffective counsel during his post-conviction proceedings.
The Supreme Court’s decision prompted the Arizona Department of Corrections to cancel the execution, which was set for 10 a.m. Tuesday. Cook’s death warrant expires Wednesday morning; if a decision isn’t reached in time, a new one must be issued. That could take weeks.
“We’re very happy,” defense attorney Robin Konrad told The Associated Press as she drove to a state prison in Florence to deliver the news to Cook. “We hope the U.S. Supreme Court considers this issue seriously.”
Ultimately, Konrad is seeking a new sentencing for Cook in hopes that he will get life in prison instead of the death penalty.
Konrad said Cook’s attorneys during his post-conviction proceedings were ineffective because they did not present to Judge Steven Conn evidence that Cook endured extreme physical and sexual abuse throughout his childhood.
Cook 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.
Cook has acknowledged his guilt, but has been arguing strongly for a sentence of life in prison. He only recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain dysfunction stemming from the abuse, and the prosecutor who tried Cook in 1988 has said he would not have sought the death penalty had he known about it.
Assistant Attorney General Kent Cattani said it is Cook’s own fault that his trial judge did not know about the abuse because Cook represented himself during his trial and didn’t tell him about it. He also said Cook’s crime is the “worst of the worst” and that if anyone deserves the death penalty, it’s him.
“I think eventually when the court considers the petition they will find that Cook has not established a valid basis for relief and that ultimately, the sentence will be carried out,” Cattani said.
A clemency board denied Cook’s request to recommend that his sentenced be reduced to life in prison. And while the board members voiced concerns about his abuse, they ruled that the crimes he committed were too severe to merit anything other than the death penalty.
Cook’s attorneys also have argued that he shouldn’t be executed until the state implements a new single-drug method of lethal injection, a change that Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan recently announced because of “perceived concerns” about the current three-drug method. He said the change would begin after Cook’s execution.
Cook’s attorneys say the state broke federal law when it imported sodium thiopental from Great Britain because it was listed in forms as being intended for “animals (food processing),” rather than humans. His lawyers also say the sodium thiopental could be ineffective, leading to severe pain during an execution.
Cattani has denied that Arizona broke the law, and said the paperwork mistake came from a clerical error by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
He said the state is switching to one drug because of a U.S. shortage of sodium thiopental, not because of any alleged ineffectiveness.
A three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling dismissing Cook’s lawsuit over the drug issues, and the full court declined to address the issue over the weekend.
Cook was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the July 1987 deaths of Kevin Swaney, 16, and Carlos Cruz-Ramos, 26, in Lake Havasu City, in far western Arizona.
Court documents say 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 naked to a chair 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, and court records say his heart was still beating when he was left for dead.
Cook was arrested after Matzke went to police the next day. Matzke later testified against Cook to get a lighter sentence and was released in 2007.