Officials said an Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour until dying in an apparently botched execution Wednesday that is sure to reinvigorate the national debate over lethal injection in the United States.
The death of Joseph Rudolph Wood III was confirmed by the Arizona attorney general to The Associated Press about two hours after the procedure began.
Wood had apparently stayed alive so long that his attorneys filed for an emergency stay after the lethal injection initially failed to kill him, according to a legal filing.
“The Arizona Department of Corrections began the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III at 1:52 p.m.,” said the legal filing in federal court from public defender Jon M. Sands. “At 1:57 p.m. ADC reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe. At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. At that time, staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive.”
Sands called for Wood’s execution to be halted on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment and asked that officials try to resuscitate him.
Wood, 55, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, in Tucson.
The execution had originally been set for Wednesday morning, but was delayed by a temporary stay to hear arguments in a last-minute appeal effort by Wood’s attorneys.
His attorneys said that his trial attorney failed to present evidence of mental illness, including brain damage, that could have spared him from a capital sentence.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a separate plea by Wood to delay his execution until the state turned over detailed information on the drugs that would be used during his execution and on the qualifications of his execution team.
Wood is the 37th inmate executed by Arizona since 1992.