Attorneys: Arizona inmate gasped, snorted during two-hour execution

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Joseph Wood

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(CNN – July 23, 2014) — Joseph Wood died nearly two hours after the start of his execution Wednesday, his attorney said, saying the Arizona inmate struggled to breathe for much of that time.

“It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breath for about an hour and 40 minutes. 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,” attorney Dale Baich said in a statement.

Wood was convicted of murder and assault in the 1989 deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father.

“I don’t believe he was gasping for air; I don’t believe he was suffering. It sounded to me like was snoring,” said Jeanne Brown, a relative of Wood’s victims.

“You don’t know what excruciating is. What’s excruciating is seeing your dad laying there in a pool of blood, seeing you sister laying there in a pool of blood. This man deserved it. And I shouldn’t really call him a man,” she said.

The execution procedure began at 1:52 p.m. (4:52 p.m. ET) and concluded, with Wood’s being pronounced dead, at 3:49 p.m. (6:49 p.m. ET).

Troy Hayden, a media witness from KSAZ, told reporters the execution was difficult 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 attorneys had filed an emergency motion for a stay after his execution began, saying then that Wood had been “gasping and snorting for more than an hour.”

“The Arizona Department of Corrections began the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III at 1:52 p.m. (4:52 p.m. ET). At 1:57 p.m ADC reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe. At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” the motion read.

It continued: “He is still alive. This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this Court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

Inmate objected to drugs

Earlier, the Arizona Supreme Court lifted its brief stay of the murderer’s execution.

Wood was first set to be executed at 10 a.m. local time (1 p.m. ET), though it was temporarily halted when the court said it would consider his request for the justices to review his claims.

The court lifted the stay shortly after that, saying without explanation that it considered the request but decided not to review Wood’s case.

Wood was the latest American death row inmate to argue that an anesthetic recently introduced in some states’ execution protocols could fail to sufficiently knock out the inmate ahead of the lethal drugs, subjecting the person to an agonizing death.

Wood argued among other things that the state was going to use an “experimental” drug protocol of midazolam and hydromorphone.

In documents filed with the state Supreme Court, he contended the use of the anesthetic midazolam was problematic in recent U.S. executions and that it would violate the Constitution’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

Controversial Oklahoma execution

Drugs weren’t Wood’s only contention. He also argued the execution should be stopped because his trial attorney was ineffective and that new evaluations from psychologists show he has cognitive impairments that would make him innocent of premeditated murder.

Some states turned to midazolam this decade after they could no longer get sodium thiopental, a drug that was regularly used for executions. A U.S. manufacturer stopped producing sodium thiopental in 2009, and countries that still produce it won’t allow its export to the United States for use in lethal injections.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma put executions on hold after the controversial execution of Clayton Lockett. Midazolam was part of the injection combination, and it took 43 minutes for him to die, Oklahoma officials said.

While state officials said Lockett was unconscious the entire time, a media witness for CNN affiliate KFOR said he uttered the words, “Man,” “I’m not,” and “something’s wrong,” before blinds to the execution chamber were closed. His lawyer, Dean Sanderford, said the inmate’s body twitched and convulsed before he died.

Oklahoma’s Department of Public Safety, acting on orders from Gov. Mary Fallin to get to the bottom of what happened, is investigating whether prison officials followed protocols. The review is also supposed to include recommendations about how to prevent something similar from happening again.

CNN’s Mayra Cuevas, Ross Levitt and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

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