Two-hour Arizona execution followed correct protocol, says independent report
(CNN) — An independent report released Monday into the execution of Arizona inmate Joseph Wood revealed the state’s Department of Corrections followed protocol.
“This independent review concluded that at all times following the administration of the execution protocol, the inmate was fully sedated, was totally unresponsive to stimuli, and as a result did not suffer,” said Corrections Director Charles Ryan.
“In fact, the Pima County medical examiner is cited as reporting that the breathing pattern exhibited by the inmate prior to his death is a normal bodily response to dying, even in someone highly sedated,” Ryan said.
The report timeline for the July 23 execution confirmed previous accounts that it took two hours for Wood to die after the first drug protocol was administered at 1:40 p.m. And after the first lethal injection failed to kill Wood, executioners gave him 14 additional doses of a two-drug cocktail.
During those two hours, witnesses including Wood’s attorney claimed to have seen Wood snorting and struggling to breathe.
Troy Hayden, a media witness from KSAZ, likened Wood’s breathing to a “fish gulping for air.”
The report timeline did not remark on Wood’s breathing. After the staff administered a dose, they confirmed that Wood remained sedated.
“The medical examiner in this case offered no apparent explanation for the time lapse that occurred in the Wood execution,” read the report. “The IV team leader, medical examiner and an independent correctional health expert agreed that the dosage administered was sufficient to cause death in a relatively short period of time. All agreed that the dosage of midazolam would result in heavy sedation.”
The two-drug cocktail itself — a mix of midazolam and hydromorphone — came into question.
Wood’s attorney, Dale Baich, argued the report did not “answer the question of why the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised.”
In an open letter, Ryan told Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer he intends to stop using the midazolam and hydromorphone cocktail and instead use a one-drug injection or a three-drug cocktail.
“Based on this report, I forwarded my assessment to Governor Jan Brewer that the state continue efforts to procure drugs for the one-drug protocol, and begin the process to adopt three-drug protocols, as opposed to utilizing a modified two-drug protocol,” Ryan said.
Baich said he warned the Department of Corrections of the two-drug combination long before the execution.
“The pre-identified problems came true,” Baich said. “The decision to now remove this formula is an acknowledgment by the Arizona Department of Corrections that it was wrong in choosing this combination of chemicals.”
The independent review came at Brewer’s request. She directed the Department of Corrections to review the process citing concerns over the amount of time it took for Wood to die.
A federal judge ordered local officials to preserve all physical evidence in Wood’s execution.
Wood was convicted of murder and assault in the 1989 deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father.
“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,” said Jeanne Brown, a relative of Wood’s victims.
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 claimed among other things that the state was going to use an “experimental” drug protocol.
In documents filed with the state Supreme Court, Wood 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.
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.
The Arizona report remarked on the differences with the Oklahoma case.
“Staff performance in no way contributed to the extended time lapse from initiation of the drug protocol to pronouncement of death. As noted, the execution was not ‘botched” in comparison to what occurred in Oklahoma with Clayton Lockett,” said the report.
But Baich remains unconvinced.
“The state should release all of the documentation and witness reports that went into this review. Only through discovery in a court of law will there be a truly independent and comprehensive examination of what went wrong during Mr. Wood’s nearly two-hour execution,” he said.