Joseph Rudolph Wood III, who was convicted in 1989 of killing his estranged girlfriend and her father, was executed in Arizona on Wednesday. The process did not go according to plan.
The execution officially began when Wood was injected with a lethal (and controversially secret) cocktail of drugs at 1:53 PM at the Arizona’s state prison in Florence. By 1:57 PM, Wood had said his last words and was unconscious. Then, around 2:05, Wood began gasping.
According to Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer, Wood gasped “about 660 times.” Kiefer said the gasping didn’t peter out until 3:33 PM, and the death was finally called at 3:49 PM — nearly two hours after the process began.
Wood remained alive long enough for his public defenders to file an emergency stay of execution motion, noting Wood had “been gasping and snorting for more than an hour.” The futile attempt was just the latest in a recent string of legal proceedings challenging the state’s clandestine application of lethal injection drugs.
Wood’s lawyers had filed for a preliminary injunction to stop the execution, citing concerns over the secrecy surrounding the execution process, specifically the drugs that would be administered. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Wood had a First Amendment right to information about the qualifications of the executioners and the origin of the drugs to be used in the execution and granted Wood a conditional stay. Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit refused a state request to lift the stay; so the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which lifted the stay without comment on Tuesday.
Alessandra Soler, Executive Director of 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. Now we see that our government officials cannot be trusted to take seriously our Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.”
While one witness described the scene as “very disturbing to watch … like a fish on shore gulping for air,” the family of Wood’s victims were less sympathetic.
Jeanne Brown, the sister and daughter of Wood’s two victims, said it sounded more like he was snoring, telling USA Today that it certainly did not compare to the way her family has suffered over the last 25 years. “What I saw with him today being executed — this was nothing,” she said. “You don’t know what excruciating is — seeing your dad lying there in a pool of blood … This man deserved it.”