The Washington Post

Arizona execution takes nearly 2 hours; governor orders review

The execution of a convicted murderer in Arizona lasted nearly two hours Wednesday, and witnesses said he gasped and snorted for much of that time before dying.

The drawn-out process prompted the governor to order a review, and it renewed criticism of lethal injection, the main method of execution in the United States, just months after a botched execution in Oklahoma.

Joseph R. Wood III was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., an hour and 57 minutes after the execution began at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, the office of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said.

“I’ve witnessed a number of executions before, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys, said in a phone interview. “Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.”

Wood was sentenced to death for the 1989 fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene.

During the execution, Wood’s attorneys filed a request to halt the lethal injection because he was awake more than an hour after the process began.

Shortly after the execution began, Baich said, Wood’s lips started to move, and he was “struggling to breathe.” Baich said he watched Wood “gasp and breathe heavily” for more than an hour and 40 minutes.

Reporters for the Associated Press and the Arizona Republic also reported seeing Wood gasp more than 600 times before dying. Michael Kiefer, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, said he counted 660 gasps, according to the newspaper. “I just know it was not efficient,” Kiefer said. “It took a long time.”

Charles Ryan, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said in a statement Wednesday night that Wood did not suffer during the execution.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) ordered the Department of Corrections to conduct a review of the execution and said in a statement that she was “concerned by the length of time” it took.

Wood was the third inmate executed in Arizona since October and the first put to death using a combination of the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone.

Attorneys for Wood had argued that more information was needed regarding the drugs that would be used in the execution.

A panel of judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with Wood over the weekend, staying the execution, and the full court upheld that decision Monday. But the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the stay and denied a stay request Tuesday evening.

Shortly before the scheduled execution, the state Supreme Court stayed the execution to consider his petition, but it later denied the request.

Mark Berman covers national news for The Washington Post and anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and stories from around the country.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
56% 36%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.