Inmate gasped, snorted during two-hour execution

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(CNN) — Joseph Wood died nearly two hours after the start of his execution Wednesday, his attorney said, saying the Arizona inmate struggled to breathe for much of that time.

“It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes. We will renew our efforts to get information about the manufacturer of drugs as well as how Arizona came up with the experimental formula of drugs it used today,” attorney Dale Baich said in a statement.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer directed the Department of Corrections to review the process, saying she was concerned by the length of time it took to carry out the execution.

“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,” she said.

Wood was convicted of murder and assault in the 1989 deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father.

“I don’t believe he was gasping for air; I don’t believe he was suffering. It sounded to me like was snoring,” said Jeanne Brown, a relative of Wood’s victims.

“You don’t know what excruciating is. What’s excruciating is seeing your dad laying there in a pool of blood, seeing you sister laying there in a pool of blood. This man deserved it. And I shouldn’t really call him a man,” she said.

The execution procedure began at 1:52 p.m. (4:52 p.m. ET) and concluded, with Wood’s being pronounced dead, at 3:49 p.m. (6:49 p.m. ET).

Troy Hayden, a media witness from KSAZ, told reporters the execution was difficult to watch. He likened Wood’s breathing to a “fish gulping for air.”

“It was tough for everybody in that room,” he said.

Michael Kiefer, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, has witnessed five executions, including Wood’s.

“Usually it takes about 10 minutes, the person goes to sleep. This was not that,” he told reporters afterward. “It started off looking as if it was going alright but then obviously something didn’t go right. It took two hours.”

Kiefer described the sound Wood made as a “deep, snoring, sucking air sound.”

Wood’s attorneys had filed an emergency motion for a stay after his execution began, saying then that Wood had been “gasping and snorting for more than an hour.”

The motion read: “He is still alive. This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this Court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

Inmate objected to drugs

Earlier, the Arizona Supreme Court lifted its brief stay of the murderer’s execution.

Wood was first set to be executed at 10 a.m. local time (1 p.m. ET), though it was temporarily halted when the court said it would consider his request for the justices to review his claims.

The court lifted the stay shortly after that, saying without explanation that it considered the request but decided not to review Wood’s case.

Wood was the latest American death row inmate to argue that an anesthetic recently introduced in some states’ execution protocols could fail to sufficiently knock out the inmate ahead of the lethal drugs, subjecting the person to an agonizing death.

Wood claimed among other things that the state was going to use an “experimental” drug protocol of midazolam and hydromorphone.

In documents filed with the state Supreme Court, he contended the use of the anesthetic midazolam was problematic in recent U.S. executions and that it would violate the Constitution’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

Controversial Oklahoma execution

Drugs weren’t Wood’s only contention. He also argued the execution should be stopped because his trial attorney was ineffective and that new evaluations from psychologists show he has cognitive impairments that would make him innocent of premeditated murder.

Some states turned to midazolam this decade after they could no longer get sodium thiopental, a drug that was regularly used for executions. A U.S. manufacturer stopped producing sodium thiopental in 2009, and countries that still produce it won’t allow its export to the United States for use in lethal injections.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma put executions on hold after the controversial execution of Clayton Lockett. Midazolam was part of the injection combination, and it took 43 minutes for him to die, Oklahoma officials said.

While state officials said Lockett was unconscious the entire time, a media witness for CNN affiliate KFOR said he uttered the words, “Man,” “I’m not,” and “something’s wrong,” before blinds to the execution chamber were closed. His lawyer, Dean Sanderford, said the inmate’s body twitched and convulsed before he died.

Oklahoma’s Department of Public Safety, acting on orders from Gov. Mary Fallin to get to the bottom of what happened, is investigating whether prison officials followed protocols. The review is also supposed to include recommendations about how to prevent something similar from happening again.


  • Nick

    So in people’s efforts to be humane by euthanasia with medications; these people were inhumane. This is why a firing squad is needed. A row of people firing bullets in you is very effective, and more humane than medications.

    • Carol

      I don’t believe in the death penalty. Killing that inmate will not bring back your loved one. Making him suffer in solitary confinement for the rest of his life would kill him anyway. He would be locked up 23 hours out of 24. The only time he would get out would be to take a shower and recreation.

    • Hard Truths


      You Teabaggers don’t like the 8th Amendment, or any other part of the Constitution except the 2nd Amendment, do
      you? You’re just animals. We need literacy tests again to keep your kind from voting.

      • luvbreamfishin'

        @hardtruths: wonder if you would have that same STUPID opinion if that was YOUR family members that were murdered by this mudrat savage??

      • donaknowsitall

        I am most definitely NOT A TEABAGGER and I share many other opinions here. This man deserves eveything he got, he didn’t follow the law when he decided to murder 2 people, isn’t there something in the Constitution about that? I hope he died a painful miserable death – he is paying for what he did. I have no compassion, sympathy or empathy for this killer. Why do or should we care HOW he died, just that he died! This is the consequences to his actions.

        Maybe if all the states has the death penalty and then actualy carried out the death sentence we wouldn’t be in such a crime-ridden country,

      • donaknowsitall

        Quote from you Hard Thruths, made me laugh: “You’re just animals. We need literacy tests again to keep your kind from voting”
        Really, here I thought it was because they didn’t have the proper ID (except the Library Card)Still laughing!. ..

  • BellRinger

    I will never understand the issue with the way people on death row die… Its mind boggling that we’re supposed to show such empathy to these essential monsters. These people are not on death row for stealing bubble gum people! Who really cares how they die?? If we could put as much effort into real problems (economics, beneficial health benefits, a real mayor for Memphis) as we do into this essentially worthless topic, I can bet my bottom dollar that America would once again be “The Great” Sorry for the length *steps off soapbox*


    A literacy test to keep someone from voting. At least you don’t dissapoint, your comments are always goofy.

  • Ricky

    Yeah. I was thinking guillotine would stop all that gagging and snorting. Sounds humane enough for a killer.

  • Joe Bledsoe

    What a horrible way to die, no not him, but those he killed. He did not die a horrible enough death, with those drugs he was asleep during the process. His victims were not.

  • McE

    “Jeanne Brown told reporters, ‘You don’t know what excruciating is.'” That is so disrespectful to our veterans, many of whom know the pain of watching people they love killed in front of them AND the torture of ACTUAL torture. Your grief does not make you an authority on pain, that’s our soldiers who have lost brothers and sisters and their own arms and legs you were thinking of- they are the experts. This whole “my emotional pain is more real than actual pain” nonsense is so disrespectful to people who suffer actual pain which is pretty much always accompanied by emotional pain. Emotional pain is hard but it does not trump the duo of physical pain AND emotional pain. Who hasn’t lost a loved one to violence these days? People really need to think about how much their words disrespect our veterans and, therefore, our country before they open their mouths and show the world that the only thing they care to think about is their own self pity.

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