FLORENCE, AZ - A condemned Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half during his execution Wednesday before he died, his lawyers said, in an episode sure to add to the scrutiny surrounding the death penalty in the U.S.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's office said Joseph Rudolph Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.
Last words: knew this day would come...whatever happens, he'll be with his savior Jesus Christ— Pete Suratos (@PeteSuratosTV) July 23, 2014
Wood's lawyers had filed an emergency appeal in federal court while the execution was underway, demanding that it be stopped. The appeal said Wood was "gasping and snorting for more than an hour."
The lawyers said the execution started at 1:52 p.m., but Wood continued to breathe and was alive an hour and 10 minutes later. Defense lawyer Dale Baich called it a botched execution that should have taken 10 minutes.
The Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said the DOC "followed the execution protocol and, as with every execution, it was monitored by an IV team of licensed medical professionals in control of the medical procedures."
Ryan said Wood was fully sedated five minutes after the first drug was administered. He said the team re-affirmed the inmate remained sedates seven times until Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m.
"Other than sonorous respiration, or snoring, he did not grimace or make any further movement," the statement said. It also said the team indicated the inmate was "comatose and never in pain or distress."
Jeane Brown, sister of victim Debbie Dietz, said Wood's potential suffering was nothing compared to her family's.
“This was nothing," Brown said during a press conference following the execution. "I don’t believe he was gasping for air. I don’t believe he was suffering. This man deserved it.”
Victim Family: "to me it looked like he was sleeping, he was snoring, then he passed away. how do you call that suffering?" #woodexecution— Stephanie Hockridge (@SHockridgeABC15) July 23, 2014
Wood's case highlighted scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after two controversial executions, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.
The ACLU of Arizona wants the state to ban future executions until it’s clear what happened Wednesday won’t happen again.
“What happened was just horrible and outside the bounds of human decency. This drug cocktail that the state of Arizona is using, that these drugs are not working as they are intended to work," said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler.
States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them, because of concerns over harassment.
Woods filed several appeals that were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, including one on the basis that his First Amendment rights were violated when the state refused to reveal details of his execution such as the supplier of the drugs.
The Arizona Supreme Court also delayed the execution Wednesday morning to consider a last-minute appeal about whether Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing. But about an hour later, the state's high court allowed the execution to proceed.
Wood argued he has a First Amendment right to details about the state's method for lethal injections, the qualifications of the executioner and who makes the drugs. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases.
Dale Baich, one of Wood's defense attorney's issued the following statement following Wednesday's procedure:
The experiment using midazolam combined with hydromorphone to carry out an execution failed today in Arizona. It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breath for about an hour and forty minutes. 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. Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror -- a bungled execution. The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put the execution on hold, saying the state must reveal the information. But the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic, ruling against death penalty lawyers on the argument each time it has been before justices.
Wood's execution was Arizona's third since October and the state's 36th since 1992.
Wood was convicted in the 1989 shooting deaths of Debbie Dietz, 29, and Gene Dietz, 55, at an auto repair shop in Tucson.
Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship during which he repeatedly assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.
On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Dietz's father, who disapproved of his daughter's relationship with Wood, to get off the phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the chest and then smiled.
Wood then turned his attention toward Debra Dietz, who was trying to telephone for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, "I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you." He then called her an expletive and fired two shots in her chest.