A double murderer took nearly two hours to die and gasped for 90 minutes during his execution, the third botched use of lethal drugs on death-row inmates in the United States this year.
Joseph Rudolph Wood’s execution at Florence State Prison was so protracted that lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court while it was ongoing.
“He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” Wood’s lawyers wrote in their appeal. “He is still alive.”
The court convened but was told Wood had finally died during its impromptu hearing.
Earlier this year in Ohio, an inmate gasped in similar fashion for nearly half an hour. An Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs were not being administered properly.
Individual states have refused to reveal which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them amid concerns they would face harassment.
States have been scrambling to find sources of potentially lethal drugs after European-based pharmaceutical companies refused to supply them in light of a European Union export ban.
Wood, 55, had filed several appeals including one that said his constitutional rights were violated when the state refused to reveal where drugs were being acquired and who would administer them.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer said later that she would order a full review of the state’s execution process in the light of Wood’s protracted death.
Arizona attorney general Tom Horne’s office said Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49pm, one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.
Eyewitnesses said shortly after a sedative and painkiller were injected into his veins, Wood began to gasp. He did this more than 600 times, his jaw dropping and chest heaving.
An administrator checked on Wood half a 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 the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress,” said state Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan.
But defence lawyer Dale Baich said it was a botched execution that should have taken ten minutes. “Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror – a bungled execution,” he said.
Serial abuser Wood shot former girlfriend Debbie Dietz twice in the chest after shooting her father Eugene, 55, in the head in a Tucson car repair shop in 1989. He killed them despite Ms Dietz securing a court order to prevent him approaching her.