Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

Arizona Says Inmate Who Died After Nearly Two-Hour Execution Did Not Suffer Arizona Says Inmate Who Died After Nearly Two-Hour Execution Did Not S...

NEXT :
This ad will end in seconds
 
Close X

Not a member or subscriber? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation
 

 

Arizona Says Inmate Who Died After Nearly Two-Hour Execution Did Not Suffer

A state spokesperson says she was surprised by how "peaceful" the execution appeared.

+

(PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Arizona on Wednesday appeared to botch the execution of a death-row inmate who was pronounced dead nearly two hours after the state injected a secretive batch of lethal drugs into his body.

Joseph Wood's prolonged death comes on the heels of a flurry of court battles concerning the constitutionality of the state's refusal to disclose the identity of the supplier of its lethal drugs, and the case echoes a similarly botched execution in Oklahoma just months ago.

 

The attorneys for the convicted Arizona murderer filed an emergency appeal to halt his execution after he reportedly remained alive and conscious more than an hour after the state began the execution.

But the motion was too late, and Wood was pronounced dead almost exactly two hours after the state administered the first of a two-drug lethal cocktail into his veins.

Wood has "been gasping and snorting for more than an hour," his attorneys wrote in their emergency petition to the Arizona federal court.

 

When asked if she agreed with reports from numerous journalist eyewitnesses that Wood was gasping during his execution, Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, said "absolutely not."

"I haven't given a statement but the claims being made by the media witnesses and defense attorneys is not accurate in my opinion," she told National Journal in an email. "He went to sleep, and looked to be snoring. This was my first execution and I was surprised by how peaceful it was. There was absolutely no snorting or gasping for air."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced Wednesday evening that she had asked her state's Department of Corrections to "conduct a full review" of its execution process. While noting concern for the length of time it took for Wood's death to be called, Brewer struck a largely defensive tone.

"Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer," Brewer, a Republican, said in a statement. "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."

 

Other state officials in the attorney general's office said they believed Wood had not suffered. Michael Kiefer, an eyewitness reporter for The Arizona Republic, said he counted 660 gasps taken by Wood before he slipped into unconsciousness.

"We will renew our efforts to get information about the manufacturer of drugs as well as how Arizona came up with the experimental formula of drugs it used today," Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, said in a statement. "Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horrora bungled execution. The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent."

Richard Dieter, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center, flatly rejected the suggestion that Wood did not suffer, and cast blame on Arizona for not exercising more caution in its protocol given recent problems with lethal drugs obtained from unidentified manufacturers.

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Excellent!"

Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

Sign up form for the newsletter

"The facts speak for themselves," Dieter said Wednesday night. "I don't think Arizona ever intended to put someone on a gurney for two hours squirming and grunting."

Dieter added that Arizona had "ample warning" that the drugs used in its execution could prove problematic, especially given the recent controversy in Oklahoma. The particular combination of drugs used Wednesday night have only been used in an execution once before in Ohio, where Dennis McGuire reportedly convulsed and gasped for 25 minutes before being pronounced dead.

"This is negligence, malpractice, unpreparedness," Dieter said. "Secrecy is a recipe for disaster; it is a recipe for closed-mindedness."

Wood's execution had been in legal limbo for days, as a number of courts issued stays on his execution that were either overturned or later recanted. Wood had attempted to stave off his death sentence by arguing that Arizona was violating his First Amendment right to know the identity of the supplier of the state's two-drug lethal injection cocktail.

A federal Appeals Court had ruled in Wood's favor before the Supreme Court denied the stay Tuesday.

The details of Wood's case closely resemble those of an Oklahoma inmate whose execution was botched in April. Clayton Lockett was declared unconscious 10 minutes after being injected with the first dose of a new, untested three-drug cocktail, whose supplier was also shrouded in secrecy. He was pronounced dead of heart failure 43 minutes after his execution began.

Arizona officials said they planned to use a combination of the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone to execute Wood, but they refused to disclose the identity of the manufacturers of those drugs or the qualifications of those who would administer them.

Arizona and Oklahoma represent a dwindling number of active death-penalty states that have been scrambling in recent years to procure the drugs necessary to carry out death sentences, amid boycotts from European manufacturers and reticence from licensed physicians. Oklahoma's botched attempt forced the state to temporarily halt its executions and order a review of its death-penalty procedures.

Wood was sentenced to death for the 1989 shooting of his girlfriend and her father.

Read the full petition from Wood's lawyers here:

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Excellent!"

Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

Sign up form for the newsletter
 
MORE NATIONAL JOURNAL