An Arizona inmate took almost two hours to die by lethal injection on Wednesday and his lawyers said he “gasped and snorted” before succumbing in the latest botched execution to raise questions about the death penalty in the US.
The execution of convicted double murderer Joseph Wood began at 1:52pm at a state prison complex and the 55-year-old was pronounced dead just shy of two hours later at 3:49pm, the Arizona attorney general’s office said.
During that time, his lawyers filed an unsuccessful emergency appeal to multiple federal courts that sought to have the execution halted and their client given lifesaving medical treatment.
The appeal, which said the procedure violated his constitutional right to be executed without suffering cruel and unusual punishment, was denied by US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“He gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes,” said one of Wood’s attorneys, Dale Baich.
“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,” he added.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer expressed concern over how long the procedure took and ordered the state’s Department of Corrections to conduct a full review, but said justice had been done and that the execution was lawful.
“One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner, and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” the Republican governor 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,” he added.
An Arizona Republic journalist who witnessed the execution, Michael Kiefer, said he counted the inmate gasping for breath about 660 times.
“I just know it was not efficient,” he said. “It took a long time.”
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said protocol was followed and that the execution was monitored by a team of licensed medical professionals.
He said Wood was “fully and deeply sedated” five minutes after the drugs began to be administered, and that the medical team reaffirmed that he remained deeply sedated seven more times before he was pronounced dead.
The Pima County Medical Examiner will conduct an independent autopsy, he said, and a toxicology study was requested too.
Wood had been one of six death row prisoners who sued Arizona last month arguing that secrecy surrounding the drugs used in other botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma violated their rights.
However, he exhausted his appeals on Wednesday when the Arizona Supreme Court lifted a hold after reviewing a last-minute appeal that involved demands for more information about the lethal drug cocktail to be used in the execution.
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