In Arizona Execution, Murderer Took 90 Minutes to Die

Joseph Wood is pictured in this undated handout booking photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Corrections Arizona Department of Corrections/Reuters

Arizona death row inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood III took 90 minutes to die when he was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported. Wood, found guilty of murdering his girlfriend and her father in 1989, was given a dose of midazolam, a sedative, combined with hydromorphone, a potent opioid, at 1:52 p.m. At 1:57, officials said he was sedated. At 2:02, he began to breathe again. He gasped and snorted for more than an hour, Wood’s attorneys said in a legal filing. He was declared dead at 3:49.

Wood’s is the third botched lethal injection this year in the United States.

In January, the state of Ohio became the first to use the midazolam/hydromorphone concoction when it executed condemned killer Dennis McGuire. McGuire’s lawyers warned the state beforehand that the untested chemical cocktail might create the sensation of suffocation, resulting in a painful and prolonged death. They were right. McGuire “struggled, made guttural noises, gasped for air and choked,” taking 25 minutes to die, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

In April, the state of Oklahoma used midazolam in combination with vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride to execute Clayton Lockett, a convicted rapist and murderer. That execution also went awry when Lockett’s vein ruptured and the lethal cocktail designed to enter his bloodstream and stop his heart was harmlessly absorbed by surrounding tissue. Lockett didn’t receive enough drug to kill him peacefully, but more than enough to give him a massive heart attack. Lockett died 43 minutes after the first chemicals were administered, The Guardian reported.

Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordered the state Department of Corrections to conduct an investigation into Wood’s execution, saying she was concerned about the length of time it took Wood to die. But she insisted in a statement that he died “in a lawful manner,” The Washington Post said.

Opponents of the death penalty said Wood’s execution was the rule, not the exception.

“It’s time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure. Instead of hiding lethal injection under layers of foolish secrecy, these states need to show us where the drugs are coming from. Until they can give assurances that the drugs will work as intended, they must stop future executions,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement.

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