Washington Bureau

07.23.14

Arizona Botches Execution

The execution Wednesday of an Arizona man lasted almost two hours as he gasped for air.

Joseph Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 PM local time, almost two hours into his execution by lethal injection by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

An hour into the execution, his lawyers filed an emergency stay to halt the process, noting that Wood was still "gasping and snorting." However, Wood died before a federal judge could act on the stay.

Wood, a convicted murderer, had unsuccessfully tried to stop his execution because he was not given details on what drugs were being used to kill him. However, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt to stop the execution, the Arizona State Supreme Court let it proceed.

This prolonged execution marks yet another death penalty fiasco. In April, Clayton Lockett audibly gasped, twitched and mumbled after being pronounced unconscious while being put to death in Oklahoma. A doctor at the scene pronounced that a vein had collapsed, and Lockett died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes into the execution. 

Wood's death increasingly calls into question whether lethal injection is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Several days ago, in the ongoing litigation around Wood's attempt to prevent execution, Alex Kozinski, a federal judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, suggested that the gullotine or a firing squad were far preferable to lethal injection. 

Lethal injection is allowed as a form of execution in all thirty-two states that have the death penalty.