Moral Low Ground


Arizona Inmate Joseph Wood Gasps “Like Fish Gulping For Air” In Botched 2-Hour Execution

Arizona death row inmate Joseph Wood, who fought an unsuccessful court battle seeking disclosure of the untested drugs to be used in his execution, took two hours to die after those drugs were injected into him on Wednesday afternoon.

Witnesses said Wood, a 55-year-old convicted of killing his girlfriend and her father in 1989, struggled to breathe for more than an hour and a half after being injected with the lethal drug cocktail at 1:52 p.m. at Arizona State Prison in Florence.

A reporter for the Arizona Republic who witnessed the state killing said Wood gasped for air 660 times.

KSAZ media witness Troy Hayden said the execution was difficult to watch, and that Wood struggled like “a fish gulping for air.”

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

Wood’s horrified attorneys filed an emergency motion to halt the execution after more than an hour had passed and the condemned inmate was still alive. The motion stated that Wood had been “gasping and snorting for more than an hour.” Lethal injection is meant to kill quickly and peacefully.

“This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment,” the motion stated. “We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

Wood’s legal team reacted angrily to what it called a “bungled” execution.

“It took Joseph Woods two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes,” attorney Dale Baich said in a statement. “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.”

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

But Jeanne Brown, a relative of Wood’s victims who witnessed the killing, dismissed concerns about the inmate’s prolonged death.

“I don’t believe he was gasping for air; I don’t believe he was suffering,” Brown told CNN.

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

Jeanne’s husband Richard Brown had harsh words for reporters focusing on Wood’s suffering.

“All you people that think these drugs are bad, to hell with you guys,” Brown told the Arizona Republic. You need to look at the bigger picture.”

Wood’s lawyers argued that their client had a First Amendment right to know the origins of the drugs to be used in his execution, as well as the qualifications of his executioners.

In addition to seeking to postpone Wood’s execution in order to obtain information about the drugs that would be used to kill him, the inmate’s legal team argued that his original defense had been inadequate.

Citing several “flawed executions” this year, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a temporary stay of Wood’s execution last Saturday.

But the US Supreme Court lifted the stay just before noon on Wednesday, clearing the way for his execution.

Among the botched state killings cited by the Ninth Circuit Court was that of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and convulsed on the execution gurney after being injected with an untested drug cocktail in Oklahoma in April. The execution was called off after 16 agonizing minutes; Lockett died of a heart attack 40 minutes later.

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