TUCSON, Ariz. -- A convicted murderer in Arizona gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes after a lethal injection Wednesday, his attorneys said, dying in a botched execution that will probably reinvigorate the debate over the death penalty in the United States.
Joseph Rudolph Wood III's execution began at 1:52 p.m. MT at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence. He was declared dead at 3:49 p.m. Wood had fought in court without success for more information about the drugs that would be used and the expertise of his executioners.
The Associated Press reported his last words before the procedure were, "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."
It took so long for Wood to die after receiving an injection of midazolam combined with hydromorphone his attorneys had time to file an emergency appeal asking officials to save his life as the drugs apparently failed to fully take hold.
Wood was not pronounced dead until nearly two hours after the procedure began. Dale A. Baich, one of Wood's lawyers, witnessed the execution. He told the Los Angeles Times that during the one hour and 40 minutes Wood was gasping and snorting, he could not tell whether Wood was conscious. "There was no sound in the witness room, so we could not hear," Baich said.
A spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office, Stephanie Grisham, disputed that account. She said she witnessed the execution and did not think Wood was gasping.
"There was no gasping of air. There was snoring. He just laid there. It was quite peaceful," Grisham said.
Baich responded: "My observation was that he was gasping and struggling to breathe. I couldn't tell if he was snoring. Even if he was snoring, it took two hours for him to die?"
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne did not issue a statement on the execution, Grisham said, because he did not witness it and hadn't been briefed.
"I really wish people would recognize that the families have been dealing with this for 25 years and remember how the victims of these crimes were brutally murdered," Grisham said.
The Arizona Supreme Court ordered the Department of Corrections to preserve all the drug labels and whatever was left of the drugs.
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.
-- Los Angeles Times