The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC), its Executive Director, and a Member of its Board of Directors Sue the State of Arizona to Stop the Use of Hydrogen Cyanide for Executions

(PHOENIX – Feb. 15, 2022) The Jewish Community Relations Council, Phoenix resident Paul Rockower, its executive director, and Phoenix resident Alan Zeichick, a member of its board of directors and its executive committee, have sued the State of Arizona to stop the use of hydrogen cyanide in state-controlled executions.

The plaintiffs have filed the suit after learning that the state has scheduled its first execution since 1999 in which hydrogen cyanide may be used.

Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) was the primary chemical used by Nazi Germany for the mass murder of Jews and many others in gas chambers during the Holocaust. One of the formulations of HCN being considered by Arizona for this purpose is infamously known as Zyklon-B.

Although in 1992 the Arizona legislature ended the use of execution by lethal gas, it left in place the use of gas for people who had already been sentenced at that time, which now leaves 17 people potentially subject to this form of execution.

The plaintiffs are deeply troubled by Arizona’s potential use of hydrogen cyanide—as well as the use of taxpayer funds to support and legally defend this horrific practice.

The JCRC is a Phoenix-based non-profit organization whose primary mission is to foster education, dialogue, and advocacy in the Jewish and broader communities.

Inspired by Jewish values, the plaintiffs are committed to building for every resident of Arizona a cohesive and collaborative community that is built on trust, respectful dialogue, and understanding among all peoples. The state-sponsored killing of a human being through a practice known to cause pain and suffering undermines the plaintiffs’ efforts and is an affront to Jewish values.

Tim Eckstein, chairman of the JCRC board, notes, “Jewish teachings have long opposed cruel and painful punishments, which diminish the humanity and dignity of everyone involved, the punished and those who inflict the punishment. Thousands of years ago, Jews shunned mutilation, burning at the stake, and throwing the condemned into a funeral pyre — common practices in other cultures. Today, those same moral and ethical values require us to take a stand against a practice that we know, from very recent history, is cruel, inhumane and will highly likely cause severe pain and suffering.”

Only seven U.S. states allow lethal gas to be used for executions, most under restrictions so severe that it is functionally illegal. To that end, no state has used lethal gas for more than 20 years, since Arizona did against Walter LaGrand in 1999. Arizona presently is seeking death warrants to execute two men who were sentenced before November 1992 and are therefore eligible to be killed with hydrogen cyanide.

“It is appalling that Arizona would choose to use Zyklon-B for this purpose — the very same chemical compound that was used by the Nazis in Auschwitz to murder more than one million people,” said Eckstein.

The State of Arizona recently adopted a law requiring that Holocaust education be provided to its students. The plaintiffs cannot fathom how the State expects students to take seriously those teachings at the same time it proposes to use the same cruel method to kill its residents.

“There is no question that execution by use of Zyklon-B — or any formulation of HCN — is both cruel and unusual,” said Eckstein. “The JCRC along with the two individual  plaintiffs demand that the State of Arizona immediately denounce the use of hydrogen cyanide in executions.”

The plaintiffs are represented by DLA Piper, the ALCU Foundation of Arizona and American Civil Liberties Union.

Read more on the issue in articles in the Arizona RepublicPhoenix New Times and Jewish News, and watch this report on AZFamily.