Another horrific death penalty episode, this time in Arizona, has resulted in a temporary suspension of the penalty in the state.
The execution of Mr. Wood was, by all accounts, an unusual one: Once a vein had been tapped, it took one hour and 52 minutes for the drugs pumped into him to do their work; the process dragged on long enough for Mr. Wood’s lawyers to file an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to stop the execution.
Some witnesses to Mr. Wood’s execution said that he gasped, seemingly for air, more than 600 times as he died. “The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed,” wrote one witness, Michael Kiefer, a reporter for The Arizona Republic.
The episode has once again stoked the debate over the kinds and source of the drugs used in executions and led the state to promise an investigation. Mr. Wood’s execution was the fourth troubled one this year, and his injection was a two-drug combination — hydromorphone, an opioid painkiller that suppresses breathing, and midazolam, a sedative — that was used in a prolonged execution in Ohio in January.
States have been forced to improvise on lethal injection combos this year following an extensive effort by the European Union — where most of the ingredients originate — to ban exports of materials potentially used in executions to U.S. states with the death penalty. It’s no longer entirely clear in some states what exactly is being used, and even when the ingredients are disclosed, the effects (or effectiveness) are not fully known ahead of time.
The Attorney General of Arizona put a temporary halt on the state death penalty, pending a full inquiry into this week’s incident.
Meanwhile, the state Corrections chief insisted it had gone according to plan:
Charles L. Ryan, the director of the state’s Department of Corrections rejected the notion that the execution was botched, despite the fact that the procedure of death by lethal injection usually takes about 15 minutes. He said in a statement that an autopsy by the Pima County medical examiner, concluded on Thursday, found that the intravenous lines were “perfectly placed,” “the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins” and “there was no leakage of any kind.”
I get the sense that he doesn’t realize the implication of insisting this was not botched is that it was intended to be an agonizing 2 hour death. Unless, that was actually the goal, but I highly doubt it, given that intentionally cruel methods of execution would expose the state to very credible lawsuits on the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th Amendment.