An Arizona prisoner sentenced to die by lethal injection was subject to a “botched” procedure that left him in severe pain and distress for nearly two hours before he eventually died. Joseph Rudolph Wood III was executed on July 23, 2014 at Florence State Prison following his 1989 conviction for the murder of his estranged girlfriend and her father. He was due to be killed with a mixture of midazolam and hydromorphone, a combination which had only been used once previously and which went terribly wrong for Wood.
- The combination of drugs was known to be disastrous. Previous to Wood’s execution, the drugs were used earlier in 2014 in the execution of killer Dennis McGuire. That killing was also considered as a “botch” job given that McGuire snorted, gasped, and convulsed for roughly 25 minutes before passing away. Sadly, Wood’s experience was even worse.
- The drugs were incredibly strong. Reports suggested that the combination of midazolam and hydromorphone was said to be incredibly lethal, with only one dose needed to end his life. However, Wood too gasped and snorted for more than an hour before dying. In fact, one witness described watching Wood struggling to breathe, comparing it to “a fish gulping for air.” One reporter from the Associated Press claimed that Wood gasped more than 600 times. A procedure that should have taken 10 minutes took nearly 12 times longer.
- An hour into the execution, Wood’s lawyers filed an appeal. They asked the Supreme Court to intervene and halt the procedure, writing: “He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour… He is still alive.” That request was denied by Justice Anthony Kennedy roughly half an hour after Wood actually died.
- The governor ordered a review following Wood’s death. Governor Jan Brewer sought a review into Arizona’s execution procedures because of how long it took Wood to die. “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,” Brewer said.
- Prison officials insist Wood wasn’t in any discomfort. As Chris Ryan, the director of Arizona’s department of corrections, said in a statement: “Once the inmate was sedated, other than sonorous respiration, or snoring, he did not grimace or make any further movement. Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress.”