FLORENCE, Ariz. — An Arizona inmate was executed Wednesday after a nearly two-hour process that caused his lawyers to demand a halt of the procedure.
Lawyers for Joseph Rudolph Wood filed a request to stop the execution after he was snorting and gasping for more than an hour after a lethal drug was injected.
A family member of the victims, Jeannie Brown, said she believed Wood was not gasping for breath, but snoring.
“He deserved it,” she told assembled media. “He deserved what was coming to him.”
Brown’s husband, Richard, echoed his wife’s sentiments. He said the media was too focused on the execution rather than what Wood’s crimes did to the family of the victims.
“It’s not about the drugs,” he said. “It’s about what he did. It’s about the person who pulled the trigger.”
The execution began at 1:52 p.m. Wood was declared deceased at 3:49 p.m., spurring calls that he suffered.
“I don’t believe he was gasping for air or suffering,” said Jeannie. “It sounded to me like it was snoring.”
Wood, 55, was scheduled to be put to death at the state prison in Florence amid new scrutiny nationwide over lethal injections after several
Wood’s lawyers used a new legal tactic prior to his execution in which defense attorneys claim their
clients’ First Amendment rights were being violated by the government’s refusal
to reveal details about lethal injection drugs. Wood’s lawyers were seeking
information about the two-drug combination that will be used to kill him,
including the makers of the drugs.
“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 (Wednesday),” said Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys, after the execution. “Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution.”
A federal appeals court ruled in Wood’s favor before the U.S. Supreme Court put
the execution back on track Tuesday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
decision marked the first time an appeals court has acted to delay an execution
based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death
Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
The 9th Circuit gave new hope to death penalty opponents. While many death row
inmates have made the same First Amendment argument as Wood, the Supreme Court
has not been receptive to the tactic. The court has ruled against them each time
the transparency issue has come before the justices.
States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying
lethal injection drugs and who is administering them because of concerns over
Wood later lost a separate last-ditch appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court early
Then, the Arizona Supreme Court delayed the execution scheduled for Wednesday
morning to consider a last-minute appeal. The appeal focused on arguments that
Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing, along with a
challenge about the secrecy of the lethal injection drugs.
About an hour later, the state’s high court allowed the execution to proceed,
and prison officials told witnesses to return to the execution chamber at 1 p.m.
After the execution, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued a statement, saying she has ordered the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Wood’s execution process.
In the same statement, she also claimed Wood’s death was within the law and humane.
One thing is certain, however; inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts, he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims — and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.
The Arizona Department of Corrections echoed Brewer’s sentiment, saying:
The Department of Corrections followed the execution protocol and, as with every execution, it was monitored by an IV team of licensed medical professionals in control of the medical procedures … Once the inmate was sedated, other than sonorous respiration, or snoring, he did not grimace or make any further movement. Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress.
They added in the press release that execution times vary for each inmate, depending on his or her physiology but that a full review and independent autopsy will still be conducted.
Wood was sentenced to death for killing Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene
Dietz, in 1989 at the family’s automotive shop in Tucson.
Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted
her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection
On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Dietz’s
father, who disapproved of his daughter’s relationship with Wood, to get off the
phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the
chest and then smiled.
Wood then turned his attention toward Debra Dietz, who was trying to telephone
for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded
with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, “I told you I was going
to do it, I have to kill you.” He then called her an expletive and fired two
shots in her chest.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office,
said the agency had no comment on the Supreme Court ruling but would issue a
statement after Wood’s execution.
Wood’s attorney Baich, said, “The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail
to protect is harmful to our democracy because it prevents the public, the
courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in
compliance with all state and federal laws.”
Arizona has executed 36 inmates since 1992. The two most recent executions
occurred in October.
Two recent executions in other parts of the country have helped revive the
death penalty debate in the U.S.
An Ohio inmate in January snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him
to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison
officials halted the process of his execution because the drugs weren’t being
The fight over the Arizona execution has also attracted attention because of a
dissenting judge’s comments that made a case for a firing squad as a more humane
method of execution.
“The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national
ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to
occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising,” wrote
Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit’s chief judge. “Using drugs meant for
individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to
mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful — like
something any one of us might experience in our final moment.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.