Botched Arizona Execution Raises New Questions

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Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood was executed on Wednesday, but like another similar incident from earlier this year, things did not go according to plan. Wood's death by lethal injection took almost two hours. During that time, witnesses say he gasped and snorted continuously before being pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., exactly one hour and 57 minutes after the execution began.

This incident comes several months after the execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who actually died of a heart attack after his failed injection. Wood was convicted of brutally shooting and killing two people in 1989. 

Halfway through the execution, Wood's lawyers filed an emergency appeal in federal court, asking to stop it mid-process. In their appeal, they wrote he was "gasping and snorting for more than an hour." One hour and ten minutes in, Wood was still breathing, and very much alive. His defense attorney, Dale Baich, said the execution should have taken ten minutes. Michael Kiefer, an Arizona Republic reporter who saw the execution said, "I counted about 660 times he gasped." Another witness said Wood was like "fish on shore gulping for air.

This botched execution will add to already lingering questions over exactly drugs states are using in their lethal injections, and whether the process violates prisoners' rights. Currently, states are able to withhold this drug information, in order to prevent harassment of the pharmacies involved in supplying the drugs. Wood filed an appeal, based on the unknown details of the injection. However, it was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. There have been several other instances in recent years of lethal injections being poorly administered, causing inmates to have their executions prolonged.

Arizona's Attorney General's Office also got Wood's name wrong on the press release about his execution. They sent the following:

PHOENIX, AZ (Wednesday, July 23, 2014) – After several days of legal maneuvering, Attorney General Tom Horne is announcing the execution of 55-year-old, Robert G. Jones, ADC #086279. The execution commenced at 1:52 p.m. at the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC)-Florence. He was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m.

However, Robert G. Jones is an inmate who was executed in 2013. Later, they sent a corrected press release. 

(Image via Janece Flippo/Shutterstock.com)

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