Death Penalty

Execution takes nearly two hours; PD filed emergency motion after first hour


The execution of an Arizona inmate took nearly two hours on Wednesday, continuing even after his lawyers filed an emergency request to halt the procedure.

Witnesses said convicted double murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood snorted and gasped for breath during the lengthy execution. The state corrections department disputed that characterization, saying in a statement that Wood snored deeply but did not grimace or move. The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Arizona Republic and CNN have stories.

Troy Hayden, who witnessed the execution for KSAZ, said Wood’s breathing was similar to a “fish on shore gulping for air. At a certain point, you wondered whether he was ever going to die.” Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer also witnessed the execution and said Wood made a “deep, snoring, sucking air sound” and gasped about 640 times, according to his count. Most executions take about 10 minutes, he said.

More than an hour after the execution began, the federal public defender dispatched two lawyers to file an emergency motion seeking its halt. (The Arizona Republic says the motion was filed with the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while the Times says it was filed with the federal district court). The motion said Wood “has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour.” Wood died before the court ruled.

Lawyers also called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and three justices of the Arizona Supreme Court. According to AP, the Arizona Supreme Court called an impromptu hearing on the execution, but Wood died during the discussion.

Gov. Jan Brewer said she is ordering a full review of the execution process, though she said in a statement that “Wood died in a lawful manner” and did not suffer.

Arizona used the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone in the execution. Wood had claimed a First Amendment right to information about the sources of the drugs and their manufacturers, the credentials of the executioners who would use them, and the development of the state’s drug protocol.

Last Saturday, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution until Wood received the information, and the full appeals court declined to rehear the case en banc. Dissenting from the rehearing denial, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said the state should prevail, though he believed firing squads were a better alternative. The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the stay on Tuesday.

In his dissent, Kozinski said states should turn away from the “misguided path” of using execution drugs “and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution.”

“The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time,” Kozinski wrote.

Richard Brown, the brother-in-law of murder victim Debra Dietz, said he had no problems with the execution. “This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” Brown said. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”

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