Jeanne Brown sat in the front row. She wanted to watch this man die, up close. She wanted to look him in the eyes.
Brown, 44, waited 25 years for the execution of Joseph R. Wood III, who in 1989 fatally shot her sister and father in a Tucson body shop. On Wednesday, at 1:50 p.m., she listened to his last words in an Arizona prison: “May God forgive you all.” She swore she saw him laugh. She felt her heart pound.
Nearly two hours later, 55-year-old Wood still clung to life.
Lethal injections are supposed to end quickly. Wood’s punishment is now considered the country’s third prolonged execution this year. In January, an Ohio inmate took 26 minutes to die, gasping and snorting. In April, an Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials administered drugs.
Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m on Wednesday., Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said. An Associated Press reporter said he gasped 600 times. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered the state’s Department of Corrections to conduct a review of the execution. A spokesperson for the Arizona attorney general, however, said Wood wasn’t gasping or snorting – he was snoring.
Brown didn’t think about that Wednesday. Flanked by her husband and younger sister, she kept her eyes on Wood. “I kept wondering, ‘What’s happening? He was snoring. That was it. He was just snoring.”
Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing Debra Dietz, his long-time girlfriend, and her father, Eugene, who disapproved of the relationship. In 1989 Wood walked into the body shop where they worked and shot Eugene in the chest. He shot Debra twice, Brown said, as she begged for her life.
Brown’s husband Richard, who worked the body shop at the time, hid under a car and saw it happen. Now he sat beside her at the prison, holding her hand. Ten feet away, Wood seemingly snored.
They thought of the day that fueled 25 years of nightmares.
Brown was almost 19, at home with her one-year-old daughter, when a police officer knocked on the door and said, “You need to come with me.” What followed is now a blur: tears, sympathy cards, calls from reporters, the funeral. Her mom, who died three years later “from heartbreak,” Brown said, scattered their ashes across the state.
She learned Wood’s execution date three months ago and took a couple days off her work at a body shop in Tucson. The job, Brown says, connects her to Debra and Eugene. They all loved cars. Fixing them. Detailing them. Watching Nascar on TV.
“I had to go see Joe die and get right back to normal,” she said. “I wasn’t going to cry. I was there for closure, not to give him any more of my time.”
Brown was not concerned about the length or nature of Wood’s death. “He gave his life up when he killed my sister and my dad 25 years ago. This day was not about him. The real pain is losing your sister. Losing your father.”
Last night, she silently drove home. She thought of Debra and Eugene.
Brown is not religious. But she wondered if they’d rest easier, now.