On Wednesday, July 23, the lethal-injection execution of convicted murderer Joseph R. Wood III lasted nearly two hours before the man died, sparking renewed criticism of this inhumane method of execution. Wood was convicted and given the death sentence in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene Dietz, at their body shop in 1989.
His death sentence was carried out at the Arizona State Prison Complex in a two-hour, prolonged process that reportedly left him “gasping and struggling to breathe” for much of that time, his lawyer Dale Baich told The Washington Post. The convicted killer was injected at 1:57 p.m., yet it wasn’t until 3:49 p.m. that the 55-year-old was declared dead.
During a phone call with the source, Baich said, “I’ve witnessed a number of executions before, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.”
Michael Kiefer, a reporter for The Republic in Arizona also witnessed the execution and said he counted 660 gasps before Woods died. “I just know it was not efficient. It took a long time,” Kiefer said.
While Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered a review of the execution and released a statement saying she was “concerned by the length of time” it took, state officials defended the execution. They asserted that the murderer was merely snoring for two hours and that he was in no pain.
Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections Charles Ryan stated, “Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress.”
This incident follows a series of botched lethal injection executions, including the incident in Oklahoma with Clayton Lockett, that have ignited a nationwide debate about lethal injection and about execution itself as a means of punishment.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski argued against the lethal injection method of execution in a dissent statement in Woods’ case that reads: “Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry our executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful… But executions are, in fact, nothing like that. They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality.”