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2 Hours to Die? Another Botched Execution in Arizona Raises Questions About Lethal Injection

One hour after Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood III was injected with the killing drugs yesterday, he was still alive and breathing in the execution chamber, prompting his lawyers to file an appeal to halt the execution. In the end, however, Wood died an hour later, two hours after the execution began.

According to Wood’s attorneys, the condemned man was “snorting and coughing for more than an hour” causing them to seek an immediate stop to the execution because it amounted to ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’

In the emergency appeal, the attorneys accounted what happened during the botched execution.

“The Arizona Department of Corrections began the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III at 1:52 p.m. At 1:57 p.m. ADC reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe. At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. At that time, staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive,” they wrote, hoping his life would be spared by a last minute act by the court.

The Associated Press reported that Wood died at 3:49 pm. Other details are yet to be released.

Seasoned death penalty attorney Dale Baich said he has never seen an execution like Wood’s.

“I’ve witnessed a number of executions before and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys told the Washington Post shortly after exiting the prison.  “Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.”

Sentenced to die for the 1991 murder of his then-girlfriend and her father, Wood was the first in Arizona to be executed using a combination of the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone, the same drugs that caused Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire’s prolonged death.

His lengthy execution is likely to re-spark the national debate about the efficacy of lethal drug cocktails used to execute the nation’s condemned, a controversy that reached feverish pitch after Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died from a heart attack shortly after his own botched execution was called off earlier this year.

In Lockett’s case, the prolonged execution turned out to be due to the human error of the executioners, who misplaced the IV catheter causing his prolonged death, but questions still remain about the secretive and compounded drugs used by states scrambling to replace the drugs that they can no longer get directly from the manufacturers, who refuse to sell them the drugs for use in executions.



Photo Credit: Police File Photo

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.