Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Arizona Takes Nearly 2 Hours to Execute Inmate
Joseph R. Wood died from a two-hour long execution
in Arizona.
New York Times
JULY 23, 2014

In another unexpectedly prolonged execution using disputed lethal injection drugs, a condemned Arizona prisoner on Wednesday repeatedly gasped for one hour and 40 minutes, according to witnesses, before dying at the Arizona state prison.

At 1:52 p.m. Wednesday, one day after the Supreme Court overturned a stay of execution granted by a federal appeals court last Saturday, on the grounds that the prisoner had a right to know the maker of the lethal drugs and the training of the execution team, the execution of Joseph R. Wood III commenced.

But what would normally be a 10-to-15-minute procedure dragged on for nearly two hours, as Mr. Wood, according to witnesses including reporters and one of his federal defenders, Dale Baich, appeared repeatedly to gasp.

In a bizarre twist, Mr. Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure even as Mr. Wood lay on the gurney.

“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the federal appeal, filed just after 3 p.m. “This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this Court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

At 3:39 p.m., one of the defense lawyers placed an emergency call to three justices from the Arizona Supreme Court, which had authorized the execution at the last minute. But 10 minutes later, Mr. Wood lay dead.

“I can tell you, he was snoring,” said Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general who was a witness. “There was zero gasping or snorting and that’s just the truth. He was asleep.”

Mr. Wood was executed for the 1989 murders of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz.

Some family members of the victims said they were not concerned about the execution method, The Associated Press said.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, ‘Let’s worry about the drugs,’ ” Richard Brown, told The A.P. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said she that was concerned about the length of time the execution took.

“While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process,” she said. “One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims — and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

But state officials offered no immediate explanation for why the procedure dragged out so long and in a news release, simply announced that the execution of Mr. Wood, 55, had been completed at 3:49 p.m. and described the double murders for which he had been condemned.

The events in Arizona on Wednesday bore eerie parallels to a botched execution in Oklahoma in April, which also followed unsuccessful appeals to force the state to reveal more details about lethal drugs. In Oklahoma, Clayton D. Lockett visibly gasped and writhed on a gurney for several minutes, then later died of what state officials said was heart failure.

In that case, preliminary indications are that the catheter was improperly placed, spilling the execution drugs into Mr. Lockett’s tissue rather than into his veins so that he was only partly sedated before receiving only a partial dose of a painful heart-stopping drug.

Arizona officials said they were using the same sedative that was used in Oklahoma, midazolam, together with a different second drug, hydromorphone, a combination that has been used previously in Ohio.

Capital punishment by lethal injection has been thrown into turmoil as the supplies of traditionally used barbiturates have dried up, in part because companies are unwilling to manufacture and sell them for this purpose.

Arizona officials, like those in Oklahoma before, have turned to new drug combinations and refused to reveal the manufacturers, saying this would lead them to stop providing the drugs.

Mr. Wood’s lawyers won a short-lived victory on Saturday, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said his execution must be delayed until the state revealed the source of the drugs and specific details about the training of those carrying out the execution.

But on Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court overturned the stay.

Ian Lovett and Fernanda Santos contributed reporting.

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