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Killer was given two doses of lethal injection drugs in ‘botched’ execution

Wood (Photo from Arizona Department of Corrections)

Joseph Wood (Photo from Arizona Department of Corrections)

U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake was pulled away from a memorial for a recently deceased colleague and the phones to Gov. Jan Brewer and Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan were ringing furiously.

Meanwhile, Joseph Wood III, condemned for a 1989 double murder, lay unconscious, making sounds like snoring and seemingly gasping for air as his attorney and an assistant attorney general were on the phone with Wake so he could decide whether to stop the execution, according to a transcript of the 30-minute emergency hearing.

The hearing was called because Wood’s attorneys filed a motion to stop the execution and have life-saving measures performed on him after he was still alive and making noises and involuntary movements an hour into the procedure.

As the hearing was taking place, Wood finally died, rendering the motion to halt the execution moot.

Wake, who refused to stop the execution based on Wood’s claim that he had a First Amendment right to know about the drugs to be used in his execution, declared that the question of whether Wood suffered pain will probably be at issue in his court soon.

The lengthy time it took Wood to die, and the noises he made and gasps he took, put Arizona at the forefront of the national death-penalty debate.

The transcript reveals that Wood was given a second dose of the lethal injection drugs – the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone – after he began making noises.


Assistant Attorney General Jeff Zick explained to Wake that the executioner, a medical doctor, determine Wood was brain dead, although as far as he knew there were no probes attached to him to monitor brain activity.

“The involuntary reaction continues, but I am told that Mr. Wood is effectively brain dead and that this is the type of reaction that one gets if they were taken off of life support. The brain stem is working, but there’s no brain activity,” Zick said.

Wake expressed concern that the doctor on scene was determining brain death without electronic monitoring.

Zick said Ryan was on the phone with Brewer, prompting Wake to wonder what Brewer’s role was in execution policy, a question none of the attorneys could answer.

About 10 minutes into the hearing, Zick got a note informing him that Wood’s snoring and involuntary movements had stopped and his heart rate had slowed considerably, which was at the two-hour point of the execution.

Wake said 20 minutes into the hearing that, at that point, he didn’t think Wood was suffering serious pain and wondered whether keeping him alive could cause him pain.


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