We previously discussed the botched execution in Oklahoma and the questions that it raised about our methods of execution. Now we have another horrific execution story to report. In Arizona, it took almost two hours for the prison to execute Joseph R. Wood III. The execution took so long that his counsel had time to file emergency papers with the federal court saying “He is still alive.”
Wood’s execution was given the green light after the United States Supreme Court overturned a stay of execution that had been granted by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit held that the state had to disclose the drugs and the executioners to be used in his lethal injection — a ruling that now seems prophetic though the matter is under investigation. Arizona has disclosed it uses a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone as well as the planned dosages. However, it would not reveal information about the manufacturers and suppliers of the drugs or details about the qualifications of the state prison employees assigned to the execution. The sources of these drugs, as we discussed earlier, have been a major controversy given the international movement to cut off access of U.S. prisons to drugs used in executions.
Wood was seen gasping for breath for more than an hour and a half before he died Wednesday. The execution began at 1:52 p.m., and the inmate was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m. Witnesses counted over 600 gasps before he finally died. His lawyers rushed to try to get a court to intervene with no success. They filed with both state and federal courts as well as with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy through his clerk’s office.
In their filing to the district court, “He is still alive . . . 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.”
Wood was convicted of shooting to death his ex-girlfriend, 29, and her father, 55, in 1989.
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona made the following statement:
“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.”