FLORENCE — A condemned Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half during his execution Wednesday before he died, his lawyers said, in an episode sure to add to the scrutiny surrounding the death penalty in the U.S.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s office said Joseph Rudolph Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.
Wood’s lawyers had filed an emergency appeal in federal court while the execution was underway, demanding that it be stopped. The appeal said Wood was “gasping and snorting for more than an hour.”
The lawyers said the execution started at 1:52 p.m., but Wood continued to breathe and was alive an hour and 10 minutes later. Defense lawyer Dale Baich called it a botched execution that should have taken 10 minutes.
Gov. Jan Brewer said she’s ordering a full review of the state’s execution process, noting she’s concerned by how long it took for the administered drug protocol to kill Wood. However, she added that “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.” A message seeking comment was left with the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Word that Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the appeal came about a half hour after Wood’s death.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution saw Wood, 55, gasp more than 600 times before he died.
“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” Baich said. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”
Family members of the victims said they had no problems with the way the execution was carried out.
“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” said Richard Brown. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”
Wood looked at the family members as he delivered his final words, saying he was thankful for Jesus Christ as his savior. At one point, he smiled at them, which angered the family.
“I take comfort knowing today my pain stops, and I said a prayer that on this or any other day you may find peace in all of your hearts and may God forgive you all,” Wood said.
The case has highlighted scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after two controversial executions, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren’t being administered properly.
Arizona uses the same drugs — the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone — that were used in the Ohio execution. A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.
States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them, because of concerns over harassment.
Woods filed several appeals that were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, including one on the basis that his First Amendment rights were violated when the state refused to reveal details of his execution such as the supplier of the drugs.
The Arizona Supreme Court also delayed the execution Wednesday morning to consider a last-minute appeal about whether Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing. But about an hour later, the state’s high court allowed the execution to proceed.
Wood argued he has a First Amendment right to details about the state’s method for lethal injections, the qualifications of the executioner and who makes the drugs. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put the execution on hold, saying the state must reveal the information. But the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic, ruling against death penalty lawyers on the argument each time it has been before justices.
Wood’s execution was Arizona’s third since October and the state’s 36th since 1992.
Wood was convicted in the 1989 shooting deaths of Debbie Dietz, 29, and Gene Dietz, 55, at an auto repair shop in Tucson.
Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship during which he repeatedly assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.
On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Dietz’s father, who disapproved of his daughter’s relationship with Wood, to get off the phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the chest and then smiled.
Wood then turned his attention toward Debra Dietz, who was trying to telephone for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, “I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you.” He then called her an expletive and fired two shots in her chest.