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Arizona Inmate Dead After Controversial Two-Hour Execution

Joseph Wood
(Photo from Arizona Department of Corrections)
Joseph Wood

An Arizona inmate is dead after a controversial execution that lasted almost two hours.

Joseph Wood was injected with lethal drugs at 1:52 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, but according to his attorneys he proceeded to gasp and choke for more than an hour. At that point his attorneys filed an emergency motion to halt the execution and revive him.

An emergency hearing was held, but Attorney General Tom Horne reported that Wood died at 3:49 pm. After the execution, members of the media who witnessed the execution spoke at a press conference.

Troy Hayden with KSAZ-TV described the execution as disturbing to watch.

"Joe Wood is dead, but it took him two hours to die," Hayden said. "To watch a man lay there for an hour and 40 minutes gulping air, I can liken it to, if you catch a fish and throw it on the shore, the way the fish opens and closes its mouth. The two drugs worked, he eventually died, but I can't imagine this is what the criminal justice system had hoped for when they came up with this new drug protocol."

Some reporters counted how many times Wood gasped for air, and estimated that he gasped about 650 times during the two-hour procedure.

“This is the fifth execution I’ve witnessed," said reporter Michael Kiefer with the Arizona Republic. "I’ve seen them done with thiopental and pentobarbital. Usually takes about 10 minutes, person goes to sleep. This was not that.”

Jeannie Brown, a family member of Wood’s victims, Eugine and Debra Dietz, said she doesn’t believe Wood was actually gasping. To her, it was more like snoring.

"What’s excruciating is seeing your dad lying there in a pool of blood, seeing your sister lying there in a pool of blood," Brown said. "That’s excruciating. This man deserved it. And I shouldn’t really even call him a man. He deserved everything he had coming to him."

In a statement, Wood’s attorney Dale Baich described the execution as a failed experiment and said lawyers will renew their efforts to force Arizona to reveal how it came up with the cocktail and who manufactures the drugs.

Governor Brewer said in a statement that justice was carried out today, but that she’s concerned how long the execution took. She’s ordered the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review.

Wood’s execution was Arizona’s third since October and the state’s 36th since 1992.

Updated July 23 at 5:46 p.m.

Carrie Jung Senior Field Correspondent, Education Desk Carrie Jung began her public radio career in Albuquerque, N.M., where she fell in love with the diverse cultural scene and unique political environment of the Southwest. Jung has been heard on KJZZ since 2013 when she served as a regular contributor to the Fronteras Desk from KUNM Albuquerque. She covered several major stories there including New Mexico's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage and Albuquerque's failed voter initiative to ban late-term abortions. Jung has also contributed stories about environmental and Native American issues to NPR's Morning Edition, PRI's The World, Al Jazeera America, WNYC's The Takeaway, and National Native News. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in marketing, both from Clemson University. When Jung isn't producing content for KJZZ she can usually be found buried beneath mounds of fabric and quilting supplies. She recently co-authored a book, "Sweet And Simple Sewing," with her mother and sister, who are fabric designers.