Arizona’s execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a U.S. state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.
Governor Jan Brewer, a 69-year-old Republican, said she ordered corrections officials to review the lethal injection yesterday at the Arizona Prison Complex-Florence, which lasted almost two hours and triggered calls for a moratorium. It followed two similar instances in Oklahoma and one in Ohio, said Sarah Turberville, senior counsel at the Washington-based project, which tries to build consensus on contentious issues.
“The common denominator in every single one of these circumstances is that the states have moved rapidly to shield from the public and the courts any information about the source of these drugs, the efficacy of them or the safety of them,” she said by telephone. “One wonders how many botched executions it will take for the courts and legislatures and our leadership to take seriously their obligations under the Eighth Amendment,” which bars cruel and unusual punishment.
The executions highlight tension between companies and states over drugs used for lethal injections, with manufacturers refusing to supply them out of concern for retribution and governments rushing to find alternatives. The U.S. was the only country in the Americas to carry out executions in 2013, with none reported in Europe and central Asia, according to a March report from Amnesty International.
Methods by which the U.S. government has performed capital punishment have evolved from hangings to electrocution and the gas chamber to the firing squad. Death by lethal injection came in the late 1970s after the Supreme Court reinstated the practice.
Some companies have refused to sell U.S. states drugs for capital punishment. Last year, for example, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. said it planned to control distribution of the anesthetic propofol. In response, states have changed execution protocols and passed laws hiding the identities of suppliers.
Arizona used a combination of Valium-like midazolam and a narcotic called hydromorphone to kill Wood, the Arizona Republic newspaper said.
Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering his 29-year-old ex-girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, and her father, Gene Dietz, according to a statement from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne.
Dietz and Wood had been in a volatile relationship for about five years when Wood walked into a body shop owned by her family, armed with a .38 caliber revolver, and shot 55-year-old Gene Dietz, Debra’s father, according to the statement. Wood shot Debra Dietz once in the abdomen and once in the chest, Horne said.
An account of the killer’s execution by the Republic described medical staff administering drugs intravenously to Wood, who lay strapped to a gurney in an orange jumpsuit as relatives watched on closed-circuit television in a nearby room. About 11 minutes in, his mouth opened and he gasped for air.
“Three minutes later it opened again, and his chest moved as if he had burped,” the newspaper said. “Then two minutes again, and again, the mouth open wider and wider. Then it didn’t stop. He gulped like a fish on land.”
Richard Brown, Dietz’s brother in law, criticized reporters for dwelling on the drug cocktail and prolonged execution.
“You guys are blowing this all out of proportion about these drugs,” Brown said during a press conference at the prison. “This man conducted a horrifying murder and you guys are saying, ’Let’s worry about the drug and how he was affected.’”
Convicted killers “deserve to suffer a little bit,” he said.
In an e-mailed statement, Brewer said Wood died lawfully and peacefully.
“By eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” she said. “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.”
The governor is concerned with how long yesterday’s execution took, yet that doesn’t sway her support for the death penalty, said Ann Dockendorff, a spokeswoman. No executions or execution warrants are currently pending or anticipated in the immediate future, she said.
States should be smarter about methods of killing inmates so as to avoid negative attention when executions don’t go as planned, said Mike Rushford, president of the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which favors the death penalty. That could open the door to a more meaningful conversation about the ethics of capital punishment, he said.
“We’re focusing on the part of the case that has the least importance to most people,” he said. “How we’re doing it seems almost academic.”
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, called for executions to stop.
“Until state officials can convince the public and the people we plan to put to death that the process will be transparent and in compliance with the Eighth Amendment, the death penalty must be put on hold,” she said in a statement. “Arizona had clear warnings from Ohio and Oklahoma. Instead of ensuring that a similar outcome was avoided here, our state officials cloaked the plans for Mr. Wood’s death in secrecy.”