USA TODAY-- The execution of a convicted murderer in Arizona on Wednesday took nearly two hours, confirming concerns that had been raised by his attorneys about a controversial drug used by the state.
Joseph Rudolph Wood III remained alive at Arizona's state prison in Florence long enough for his public defenders to file an emergency motion for a stay of execution with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, after the process began at 1:53 p.m. CST. The motion noted that Wood "has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour" after being injected with a lethal cocktail of drugs.
According to Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer, who witnessed the execution, lines were run into each of Wood's arms. After Wood said his last words, he was unconscious by 1:57 p.m. At about 2:05, he started gasping, Kiefer said.
"I counted about 660 times he gasped," Kiefer said. "That petered out by 3:33. The death was called at 3:49," Kiefer said.
Another reporter who witnessed the execution, Troy Hayden, said it was "very disturbing to watch ... like a fish on shore gulping for air."
Typically, executions by lethal injection take about 10 minutes.
Family members of the victims had a less sympathetic take on Wood's final moments Wednesday.
Jeanne Brown, sister of Debra Dietz and daughter of Eugene Dietz, whom Wood was convicted of murdering, witnessed the execution. She said it sounded more like Wood was snoring than gasping for air.
"What I saw with him today being executed -- this was nothing," she said.
Brown said what Wood experienced Wednesday did not compare to the pain her family has suffered for the past 25 years.
"You don't know what excruciating is -- seeing your dad lying there in a pool of blood ... This man deserved it," she said.
Gov. Jan Brewer issued a statement Wednesday saying she was concerned about the length of time it took for the drug to complete the lawful execution. She said she has ordered the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process.
"One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer," her statement said.
Reached via text message, state Attorney General Tom Horne's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said the office had no comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona issued a statement calling for a moratorium on executions.
"What happened today to Mr. Wood was an experiment that the state did its best to hide," Executive Director Alessandra Soler said. "Now we see that our government officials cannot be trusted to take seriously our Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment."
The Arizona Supreme Court had lifted a temporary stay of Wood's execution shortly before noon Wednesday, clearing the way for his execution later in the day. Wood had been scheduled to die at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but the court halted the process long enough to consider a last-minute petition for post-conviction relief. Witnesses were told when the stay was issued to return by 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Wood, 55, was sentenced to death for killing Debra Dietz and Eugene Dietz in 1989 at the family's automotive shop in Tucson.
Wood and Debra Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.
Wood went to the auto body shop and shot Eugene Dietz in the chest. He then hunted down Debra Dietz and shot her twice.
He was sentenced to death twice and lived quietly on death row until his appeals ran out.
In recent years, many states that still have capital punishment, including Arizona, have passed or expanded laws that shroud the procedures in secrecy.
The Arizona Department of Corrections planned to use a controversial drug, and it favors a controversial method of administering it, so Wood's attorneys demanded to know the qualifications of the executioners and the origin of the drugs to be used in the execution, claiming that Wood had a First Amendment right to the information.
On Saturday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which lifted the stay without addressing the First Amendment issue.
State officials said in court filings that they need to maintain secrecy because publicity has made it more difficult to obtain the drugs needed to carry out executions.
Drug manufacturers have begun refusing to sell to departments of corrections, forcing the departments to experiment with new and less reliable drugs or to specially order them from compounding pharmacies, which in turn are harassed by anti-death-penalty activists.
Last October, a Florida man was executed with a three-drug protocol starting with midazolam. The Associated Press reported that the prisoner "remained conscious longer and made more body movements after losing consciousness than other people executed recently by lethal injection under the old formula."
In January, an Ohio prisoner who received a cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone gasped for air and took more than 20 minutes to die, compared with the usual 10 minutes or so when prisoners are executed with thiopental or pentobarbital.
And during an April execution in Oklahoma, the condemned man at first appeared to be unconscious, but then began "writhing and bucking," one eyewitness wrote.
The execution was stopped, but the man subsequently died of an apparent heart attack.