Arizona officials assured a judge during a nearly two-hour execution of a US inmate that he was comatose and did not feel pain at any point, according to a transcript of an emergency court hearing.
The transcript released on Thursday revealed the behind-the-scenes drama as Joseph Rudolph Wood lay strapped to a bed gulping for air on Wednesday.
According to witnesses, Wood gasped for about 90 minutes during his execution on Wednesday. The process took so long that his lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal while it continued.
The release of the transcript came as Arizona announced it will not carry out any further death penalties until a review of the apparently botched execution is complete.
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan, who is undertaking the review, in a statement on Thursday said: “I have … been advised by the Arizona Attorney General that his office will not seek any warrants of execution prior to the completion of the review of this matter.”
Jan Brewer, Arizona’s governor, had ordered the full review of the state’s execution process after saying she was concerned by how long it took for the administered drug protocol to kill Wood.
“He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” Wood’s lawyers wrote in their appeal, demanding that the court stop the execution. “He is still alive.”
The emergency hearing included a defence lawyer, a lawyer for the state, and a judge.
They discussed Wood’s brain activity and heart rate, questioned if he was in pain and talked about whether it would do any good to stop the execution while it was so far along.
The office of the Arizona Attorney General said Wood, 55, was pronounced dead one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started on Wednesday.
The execution has rekindled the debate over the death penalty and handed potentially new evidence to those building a case against lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.
Wood’s death came months after inmate Dennis McGuire took half an hour to die after being given the same mix of drugs in the state of Ohio.
The cocktail includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller, hydromorphone.
“These procedures are unreliable and the consequences are horrific,” said Megan McCracken, of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law’s Death Penalty Clinic.
States have been scrambling to find potentially lethal drugs as several European-based pharmaceutical companies have refused to supply them if they are intended for executions.
Wood had been convicted of fatally shooting 55-year-old Gene Dietz and her father at their car repair shop. Wood and Debbie Dietz had a tumultuous relationship during which he repeatedly assaulted her.
She tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.