Eyewitnesses have described the horrifying moment an Arizona inmate gasped and snorted in an execution that lasted nearly two hours.
Lawyers for Joseph Wood even had time to file an emergency motion to abort the execution because their client was alive for so long after receiving a lethal injection that was intended to kill him quickly and peacefully.
But their motion, filed in federal district court, failed to save Wood. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced that the 55-year-old convicted killer was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m. Court papers said the execution started 117 minutes earlier.
"He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour," Wood's lawyers wrote in their hurried attempt to call off the execution and force Arizona to provide Wood with life-saving care. "He is still alive."
A journalist from the Arizona Republic who witnessed the execution said Wood gasped for air 660 times after the drugs were introduced through intravenous tubes.
Troy Hayden, a media witness from KSAZ, told reporters the execution was disturbing to watch. He likened Wood's breathing to a "fish gulping for air."
"It was tough for everybody in that room," he said.
Wood's execution comes amid nationwide scrutiny into the nature of lethal injections in the US.
Arizona and several other states have been accused of withholding details of the process, including the supplier of their execution drugs, how or whether those drugs are tested, or details about the qualifications of the execution team.
In the past, executions by lethal injection using barbiturates, such as sodium thiopental, took about 10 minutes. But European and American manufacturers now refuse to supply it for executions.
In 2011 the European Union announced an export ban on sodium thiopental, in pursuit of its official goal of "universal abolition" of the death penalty.
It has left capital punishment states to choose between executing inmates under dangerous conditions or not executing them at all - and many states have chosen to go ahead anyway, "improvising" with new, untested drugs.
Michael Kiefer, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, has witnessed five executions, including Wood's.
"Usually it takes about 10 minutes, the person goes to sleep. This was not that," he told reporters afterward. "It started off looking as if it was going alright but then obviously something didn't go right. It took two hours."
Kiefer described the sound Wood made as a "deep, snoring, sucking air sound."
Wood was convicted of killing his girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father in 1989.
Dietz's sister dismissed concerns about how Wood died.
"I don't believe he was suffering," Dietz's sister, Jeannie Brown told NBC News. "Who really suffered was my dad and my sister when they were killed."
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered a review and said she was "concerned" about how the execution unfolded, according to NBC, but said Wood didn't suffer "in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims."
Defense lawyers and prosecutors had battled in court in the run-up to Wood’s execution. His attorneys sought to postpone his execution unless Arizona disclosed information about the untested cocktail of deadly drugs they planned to administer to him, the Arizona Republic reported.
They also argued that Wood's original defense was inadequate. The Arizona Supreme Court, however, rejected both arguments earlier today and allowed the execution to go forward.
After Wood's death was announced, one of his lawyers in a statement given to The Huffington Post US criticised the secrecy Arizona officials maintained around the experimental use of the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone.
Following the execution, Arizona's department of corrections asserted that it had followed protocol and the process was monitored by a team of medical professionals.
The Washington Post reports that sedation of Wood was confirmed eight times. The corrections department held that aside from snoring, Wood was still and did not "grimace" during the execution, according to CNN.
"We will renew our efforts to get information about the manufacturer of drugs as well as how Arizona came up with the experimental formula of drugs it used today. Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror -- a bungled execution," Dale Baich said. "The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”
In April, Oklahoma halted the execution of inmate Clayton Lockett who writhed in the death chamber during an execution prolonged by poorly administered drugs.
Lockett was left "writhing in agony" on the gurney of the death chamber of Oklahoma state penitentiary after a cocktail of lethal drugs had been administered. It took 43 minutes for him to die of a heart attack.Suggest a correction