Another botched execution in US stirs consciences

In another unexpectedly prolonged execution using disputed lethal injection drugs, a condemned Arizona prisoner on Wednesday repeatedly gasped for one hour and 40 minutes, according to witnesses, before dying at an Arizona state prison.
At 1:52 p.m. Wednesday, one day after the United States Supreme Court overturned a stay of execution granted by a federal appeals court last Saturday, the execution of Joseph R. Wood III commenced.
But what would normally be a 10- to 15-minute procedure dragged on for nearly two hours, as Mr. Wood appeared repeatedly to gasp, according to witnesses including reporters and one of his federal defenders, Dale Baich.
State officials insisted that Mr. Wood had been comatose throughout the procedure and did not suffer.
In a bizarre twist, Mr. Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure as Mr. Wood lay on the gurney, and they even called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court.
“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the district court appeal, filed just after 3 p.m. “This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”
Mr. Wood died before the district court responded, while Justice Kennedy turned down the request to halt the procedure by telephone while Mr. Wood was still alive, said Robin Konrad, a lawyer for Mr. Wood.
At 3:39 p.m., one of the defense lawyers placed an emergency call to three justices from the Arizona Supreme Court, which had authorized the execution at the last minute. But 10 minutes later, Mr. Wood lay dead. “I can tell you, he was snoring,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for
the Arizona attorney general who was a witness. “There was zero gasping or snorting, and that’s just the truth. He was asleep.”
Mr. Wood was executed for the 1989 murders of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz.
Some family members of the victims said they were not concerned about the execution method, The Associated Press said.
“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, ‘Let’s worry about the drugs,’ ” Richard Brown, brother-in-law of Debra Dietz, told The A.P. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet? Why didn’t we give him Drano?”
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said that she was concerned about the length of time the execution took.
“While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process,” she said. “One thing is certain, however: Inmate Wood died in a lawful manner, and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. 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.”
But state officials offered no immediate explanation for why the procedure dragged out so long.
The events in Florence, Ariz., on Wednesday bore eerie parallels to a botched execution in Oklahoma in April, which also followed unsuccessful appeals to force the state to reveal more details about lethal drugs. In Oklahoma, Clayton D. Lockett visibly gasped and writhed on a gurney for several minutes, then later died of what state officials said was heart failure.
In that case, preliminary indications are that the catheter was improperly placed, spilling the execution drugs into Mr. Lockett’s tissue rather than into his veins so that he was only partly sedated before receiving a partial dose of a painful heart-stopping drug.
Arizona officials said they were using the same sedative that was used in Oklahoma, midazolam, together with a different second drug, hydromorphone, a combination that has been used previously in Ohio. Similar problems were reported in the execution in Ohio in January of Dennis McGuire, using the same two drugs. He reportedly gasped as the procedure took longer than expected. Capital punishment by lethal injection has been thrown into turmoil as the
supplies of traditionally used barbiturates have dried up, in part because companies are unwilling to manufacture and sell them for this purpose.
Arizona officials, like those in Oklahoma and several other states, have turned to new drug combinations and refused to reveal the manufacturers, saying this would lead them to stop providing the drugs.
Mr. Wood’s lawyers won a short-lived victory on Saturday, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said his execution must be delayed until the state revealed the source of the drugs and specific details about the training of those carrying out the execution.
But on Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court overturned the stay.

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