1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Two-hour Arizona execution

July 24, 2014

The execution of convicted murderer Joseph Wood in Phoenix lasted almost two hours. His lawyer filed emergency appeals, saying his client was "gasping and snorting." The state's governor pledged an investigation.

Joseph Rudolph Wood
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Joseph Wood survived nearly two hours after receiving a lethal injection and gasped for breath for around 90 minutes, in the latest botched execution to renew questions about the death penalty in the US. The 55-year-old, convicted of a double murder in 1989, took so long to die that his lawyers had time to file an unsuccessful emergency appeal with multiple federal courts.

"He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour," Wood's lawyers wrote in a legal filing demanding the courts stop the process and provide medical treatment. "He is still alive."

Wood's execution began at 1:52 p.m. local time on Wednesday at a state prison complex, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's office said he was pronounced dead 117 minutes later.

The Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said he consulted with medical officials throughout the process, "and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress." Yet defense lawyer Dale Baich called it a botched execution that should have lasted 10 minutes.

"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."

In Ohio this year, an inmate gasped in a similar fashion for almost half an hour before dying. Arizona was using the same drugs - the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone - that were used in the Ohio execution. A different drug combination was employed in an Oklahoma execution where the inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted the execution because the drugs had not been administered properly.

Prior to his execution, Wood was among six death row inmates who filed a failed appeal, denied by the US Supreme Court, demanding more information on the means of his lethal injection: including who would manufacture and supply the drugs, and the medical qualifications of those administering the injections.

Brewer pledges investigation

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer expressed concern at the length of time Wood took to die and said she had ordered the state's Department of Corrections to review the execution process.

"One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer," Republican Governor Brewer 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."

Family members were present at the execution, and reportedly angered by Wood looking at them and smiling during his last words.

The US is among a gradually shrinking number of countries that still uses capital punishment. Amnesty International recorded at least one execution in 22 countries in 2013, adding that executions likely took place in Egypt and Syria but could not be confirmed. Ninety-eight countries have abolished the death penalty altogether and 140 have scrapped it in practice.

Abolition of the death penalty is a pre-condition for entry into the European Union and is described on the bloc's website as "a key objective for the Union's human rights policy."

msh/dr (AP, Reuters)