October 25, 2014

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Arizona execution takes nearly 2 hours

Joseph Rudolph Wood

Joseph Rudolph Wood

PHOENIX (AP) — A condemned murderer took nearly two hours to die and gasped for about 90 minutes during an execution in Arizona that quickly rekindled the national debate on capital punishment in the U.S.

The execution of 55-year-old Joseph Rudolph Wood took so long that his lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal while it was ongoing. The Arizona Supreme Court also called an impromptu hearing on the matter and learned of his death during the discussions.

“He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” Wood’s lawyers wrote in a legal filing demanding that the courts stop it. “He is still alive.”

It is the third prolonged execution this year in the U.S., including one in Ohio in which an inmate gasped in similar fashion for nearly a half-hour. An Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren’t being administered properly.

Gov. Jan Brewer said later that she’s ordering a full review of the state’s execution process, saying she’s concerned by how long it took for the administered drug protocol to kill Wood.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s office said Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution saw Wood start gasping shortly after a sedative and a pain killer were injected into his veins. He gasped more than 600 times over the next hour and a half. During the gasps, his jaw dropped and his chest expanded and contracted.

An administrator checked on Wood a half dozen times. His breathing slowed as a deacon said a prayer while holding a rosary. Wood finally stopped breathing and was pronounced dead 12 minutes later.

“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,” said state Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan.

Defense lawyer Dale Baich called it a botched execution that should have taken 10 minutes.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” Baich said. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

Family members of Wood’s victims in a double 1989 murder said they had no problems with the way the execution was carried out.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” said Richard Brown, the brother-in-law of Debbie Dietz. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”

Wood looked at the family members as he delivered his final words, saying he was thankful for Jesus Christ as his savior. At one point, he smiled at them, which angered the family.

“I take comfort knowing today my pain stops, and I said a prayer that on this or any other day you may find peace in all of your hearts and may God forgive you all,” Wood said.

Arizona uses the same drugs — the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone — that were used in the Ohio execution earlier this year. A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.

“These procedures are unreliable and the consequences are horrific,” said Megan McCracken, of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law’s Death Penalty Clinic.

States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them out of concerns that the drug makers could be harassed.

Wood filed several appeals that were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, including one that said his First Amendment rights were violated when the state refused to reveal such details.

Wood argued he and the public have a right to know details about the state’s method for lethal injections, the qualifications of the executioner and who makes the drugs. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put the execution on hold, saying the state must reveal the information. But the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic, ruling against death penalty lawyers on the argument each time it has been before justices.

Deborah Denno, professor of criminal law and criminal procedure at Fordham Law School, said it may be up to Legislatures or the public to bring any change.

“I think every time one of these botches happens, it leads to questioning the death penalty even more,” she said. “It will reach a point where the public will question the value of these execution procedures generally, and perhaps the death penalty itself.”

The governor said medical and eyewitness accounts indicated that Wood did not suffer and he died in a lawful manner in which justice was served.

Attorney general’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, who witnessed the execution, said Wood “went to sleep, and looked to be snoring.”

“This was my first execution, and I was surprised by how peaceful it was,” Grisham said in an email. “There was absolutely no snorting or gasping for air.”

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

He was convicted of fatally shooting Dietz and her father, 55-year-old Gene Dietz, at their auto repair shop in Tucson.

Wood and Debbie Dietz had a tumultuous relationship during which he repeatedly assaulted her. She tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.

On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Gene Dietz, who disapproved of his daughter’s relationship with Wood, to get off the phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the chest and then smiled.

Wood then turned his attention toward Debbie Dietz, who was trying to telephone for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, “I told you I was going to do it. I have to kill you.” He then called her an expletive and fired two shots in her chest.


  • jz

    How hard can it be? And I,v been criticized for advocating firing squads, for the types like the one who executed the woman at the gas station. Spit second its over.

    • Jeff

      firing squads have been proven over the years to be the most effective and quick. Within approx. 10 sec….you dead. And it’s cheap.

      • Pablo Jones

        I say cut off the head. They can even add a camera and a tv screen. After they cut the head off and it is still conscious it can look into the monitor and think for one last second, “hey there’s my body, and there’s my head, it was cut off. I guess I’m going to h….” Then they’re dead.

    • Sue Lawson

      Gary Gilmore chose the firing squad. He also wanted it done quickly, didn’t waste taxpayer money.

  • golfingirl

    “Arizona execution takes nearly 2 hours.”

    So what!

    Don’t murder two people in cold blood, and guess what? You don’t have to worry about it!

  • michelle

    oops. that’s about all I feel for this killer.

  • alreadyfedup1

    Just a shame that they could not incorporate a noose, gas, electricity and a bullet.

    • HankKwah

      Ummmm, put a noose around his neck and run a wire through it, raise him up a little, give him a push so he starts swinging, zap him a few times to make him really uncomfortable, and then let folks try to shoot the moving target? I left out the gas because it’s difficult to incorporate with the other three. Would you buy a ticket to see this? I think I would.

  • Mark B

    I find it very hard to believe there is not a drug that will kill you almost instantly , Cyanide comes to mind . Or Heroin it is Cheap and readably available. Or first use a surgical anesthetic that puts you so far out they can do surgery on you , then the lethal drug , if you can feel nothing in a surgery ,, then you would not feel anything on the execution table .

    • Pablo Jones

      1 small syringe can put a large dog to sleep. Triple it up and give it to the condemned.

  • Reagan

    I feel bad for the executioner.

    • HankKwah

      Because he had to work overtime? Yea, me too. Probably put a crimp in his morning break.

      • Reagan

        You ever kill someone Hank? Not something that is easy to live with. Whether they deserve it or not.

        • HankKwah

          Um, if that’s his title, then that’s his job. And he’s obviously been doing it for some time. He can only use the tools he’s given. If he couldn’t handle it, he wouldn’t be doing it.

          This guy was a POS. I don’t understand all the ruckus if one of these murderers suffers a little on his way out. If they don’t feel the concern for human life, they shouldn’t expect it to be returned to them.

          Have you killed anyone, Reagan?

          • Reagan

            I asked you this question first Hank. Now let me ask you another question. Ever hear of a place called KHE SANH? And thats all I have to say about that.

  • stargazer2012

    I am very sure that this been blown totally out of proportion by non-medical, wannabe ‘journalists’. If these people think that these executions are ‘inhumane’, let’s go back to executing these death row inmates by hanging or firing squad, no suffering there! Pull the lever or pull the trigger … done.

    • Mark B

      Bring back “Old Sparky”

  • golfingirl

    The real crime here is it took 25 years on Death Row for this man to get to Hell!

    How was the execution botched?….He is dead, isn’t he?

    • Bob

      That’s what I say every time one of these stories pops up.

      It took him almost two hours to die. Oh Well he got to live 25 years longer then his victims.

  • stillsleepyeyes

    Well now a good dose of heroin……………..and watch him turn blue……………

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    Astrid Galvan is anti death penalty. Her reporting is biased.

  • Sis Delish

    Where’s the compassion? This fella has family who might be reading these posts!!

    Oops, wrong blog.

    • Mark B

      He really was a good guy, he just had a bad upbringing , which should excuse any wrong he has ever done , no mater how horrific it was .

  • Otter

    Interesting, the “justice” system seems to care more about the criminal, than the victim.

  • Richard B. Zelinski

    Thats messed up! 2 hours!? Oh well. What will take your mind off this horrible story is…if you follow @CorruptTVRadio on twitter they are giving out FREE RoverFest Tickets!!!

  • Fred Garvin

    Go back to the days of the flow of electrons flowing thru the body or the day of the rope will do as well.