Read the Lengthy Debate Over Whether to End Arizona’s Botched Execution

The federal court transcript shows just how terrifying and dramatic the nearly two-hour execution was.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
July 24, 2014, 10:22 a.m.

A fed­er­al court judge in Ari­zona ap­peared un­cer­tain about wheth­er to halt the botched ex­e­cu­tion of Joseph Wood more than an hour after it began Wed­nes­day, and un­sure of the ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tocol for do­ing so, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial tran­script of court pro­ceed­ings re­leased Thursday.

Wood was put to death Wed­nes­day via a two-drug leth­al in­jec­tion, but it took nearly two hours for the state to pro­nounce him dead. The con­victed double mur­der­er gasped more than 600 times dur­ing the ex­e­cu­tion, ac­cord­ing to wit­ness re­ports.

As Wood re­mained alive on the gurney, his de­fense at­tor­neys filed a mo­tion for an emer­gency stay to the fed­er­al Dis­trict Court ask­ing that the state put the ex­e­cu­tion on hold.

The 30-minutes of pro­ceed­ings began by tele­phone about 90 minutes after Wood’s ex­e­cu­tion star­ted, and con­cluded shortly after Wood’s death was an­nounced.

The tran­scripts shows the judge largely re­ject­ing the con­cerns of Wood’s de­fense at­tor­neys on grounds that “it does ap­pear to me that there is no ser­i­ous risk of pain be­ing ex­per­i­enced at this time.” The judge also showed con­cern that act­ing to halt the ex­e­cu­tion could po­ten­tially cre­ate more suf­fer­ing for Wood.

“We have to deal with de­grees of un­cer­tainty, but it does not ap­pear that with lack of phys­ic­al re­ac­tion there is pain,” Judge Neil Wake ex­plained. “I am also con­cerned that if it were pos­sible to sus­pend this in a bet­ter cir­cum­stance, I would be dis­posed to do that if it did not cre­ate even more risk of pain. It is not ap­pear­ing to me that that is a real­ist­ic pos­sib­il­ity at this time.”

Near the tran­script’s con­clu­sion, Jef­frey Zick, rep­res­ent­ing the Ari­zona at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s of­fice, stops in mid-thought to an­nounced that Wood has died.

MR. ZICK: When the mo­tion was filed, I be­lieve his heart rate was above 20, but I can’t veri­fy that. All I know is that I was told his heart rate was 20 when I called the dir­ect­or based on the court’s wish. Wait. I just—I’m sorry, Judge.

THE COURT: Go ahead.

MR. ZICK: I just learned that the IV team lead­er has con­firmed Mr. Wood’s death.

THE COURT: All right. Let me fin­ish my thought, be­cause it’s my re­spons­ib­il­ity.

Judge Wake went on to say it was un­clear wheth­er at­tempt­ing to halt the ex­e­cu­tion would res­ult in more pain, or wheth­er Wood was already ex­per­i­en­cing pain.

Be­low is a com­plete tran­script of the de­lib­er­a­tion.

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Dale Baich, an at­tor­ney for Wood, on Thursday called for an in­de­pend­ent in­vest­ig­a­tion of the ex­e­cu­tion.

“It is pre­ma­ture for any­one to com­ment on what Mr. Wood ex­per­i­enced dur­ing the most pro­longed bungled ex­e­cu­tion in re­cent his­tory, which took place last night,” Baich said in a state­ment. “There is far too much that we don’t know at this point, in­clud­ing in­form­a­tion about the drugs, why Ari­zona se­lec­ted these drugs and amounts, the qual­i­fic­a­tions of the ex­e­cu­tion team, and more. It is im­port­ant for the people of Ari­zona to get an­swers, and only an in­de­pend­ent in­vest­ig­a­tion can provide the trans­par­ency needed fol­low­ing an ex­e­cu­tion cloaked in secrecy that went wrong. As Judge Wake said yes­ter­day, dur­ing the hear­ing on the emer­gency stay of ex­e­cu­tion, he could not rule out that pain had oc­curred dur­ing Mr. Wood’s ex­e­cu­tion, and that it was his in­ten­tion that whatever happened to Mr. Wood should have a bear­ing on oth­er death-row pris­on­ers. This is pre­cisely why an in­de­pend­ent in­vest­ig­a­tion is needed.”

Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er said Wed­nes­day that Wood did not ap­pear to en­dure suf­fer­ing dur­ing his ex­e­cu­tion. An­oth­er state of­fi­cial who wit­nessed the pro­ced­ure said the death ap­peared sur­pris­ingly “peace­ful.”

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