In the hours that followed the execution of Joseph Wood, Governor Jan Brewer would issue a statement that read in part, “While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process. One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer.”
But in the short time that has passed since that statement has been issued, new information suggests that Mr. Wood may well have not died in a manner prescribed by the law and the question of suffering has been unaddressed.
Late last week, documents were released that suggested something went wrong. As CNN reported over the weekend, “A single lethal injection was supposed to speedily end Joseph Wood’s life last week. When it didn’t, Arizona executioners gave him a total of 15 doses of a novel drug cocktail.”
Dale Baich on Friday stated, “The Arizona execution protocol explicitly states that a prisoner will be executed using 50 milligrams of hydromorphone and 50 milligrams of midazolam. The execution logs released today by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows that the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised. Instead of the one dose as required under the protocol, ADC injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, resulting in the most prolonged execution in recent memory. This is why an independent investigation by a non-governmental authority is necessary.”
The LA Times lays out the chronology, “On July 23, Wood received an injection at 1:52 p.m. at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence. The second dose was administered at 2:08 p.m., and more doses were injected at a rate of almost every couple of minutes until Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m.”
The Times reports, “The final five doses were administered while Wood’s lawyers were attempting to persuade a federal judge to stop the execution. The hearing with U.S. Judge Neil Wake, a conference call with the chief counsel of the Arizona attorney general’s office, began at 3:27 p.m. The execution had been going on for more than an hour.”
The revelation that 15 doses were given to Mr. Wood contradicts earlier accounts from Arizona’s Assistant Attorney General reported by Reuters on July 24 that they gave “at least two full doses of a two-drug lethal injection cocktail to a convicted killer before he finally succumbed nearly two hours after his execution began, the state’s assistant attorney general said on Thursday.”
“The IV team, which includes a licensed medical doctor, verified multiple times during the procedure that the inmate was comatose and never in pain,” Charles Ryan, director of Arizona’s Department of Corrections, said in a statement.
Arizona’s State Senator Ed Ableser released a statement last week.
“I support the Governor’s call for an investigation into why it took almost two hours to execute an inmate last week. However, I feel the investigation should not be done by the Department of Corrections itself, but by an independent investigator who will thoroughly and impartially answer the questions of what happened and why,” said Senator Ableser.
He would add, “It is important to maintain public trust in our system of justice and our government. In pursuing justice, we must also remain faithful to our Constitution. The botched execution has caused serious concern on both sides of the aisle. We must do all we can to seek answers with honesty and transparency while avoiding any appearance of impropriety in this investigation.”
He would call it barbaric and added, “This one is really on (Governor Brewer’s) shoulders. She can sign an executive order, put a stay on executions and let the Legislature find a better way to deal with violent criminals who deserve the maximum penalty, but one that is not cruel and unusual.”
US Attorney General Eric Holder told PBS this weekend, “We are certainly looking at our own protocol in the federal government. There’s not been a federal execution since 2003. There’s essentially been a moratorium.”
He added, “We’re in the process, pursuant to the directions of the president, in looking at the protocol that we would use, the cocktail, the drugs that would be used if there were a federal execution. But I’m greatly troubled by what happened in Oklahoma and in Arizona.”
“There may not be a legal requirement for transparency and talking about, describing the drugs that are used. But you sometimes have to go beyond that which is legally required to do something that is right. And for the state to exercise that greatest of all powers, to end a human life, it seems to me, just on a personal level, that transparency would be a good thing, and to share the information about what chemicals are being used, what drugs are being used,” Mr. Holder said, “And it would seem to me that would be a better way to do this.”
Eric Holder would later state, “We have people from our Civil Rights Division, our Criminal Division, various other components within the department looking at our protocol and taking into account what we have seen happen in the states recently, as we try to work our way through how the federal government is going to impose the death penalty.”
Senator John McCain, after the execution, stated that it amounted to “torture.”
He told reports, that the drawn-out lethal injection execution of Joseph Wood was “terrible.”
He added, “I believe in the death penalty for certain crimes. But that is not an acceptable way of carrying it out. And people who were responsible should be held responsible,” he said in an interview. “The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That’s torture.”
The question is what will be done. There have been more calls for changing executions back to firing squads.
Ironically, it was Chief Judge Kozinski who warned of this in his dissent in the case.
He wrote, “Whatever happens to Wood, the attacks will not stop and for a simple reason: The enterprise is flawed. 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 moments. But executions are, in fact, nothing like that. They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. . . .”
He would later turn – probably in satire – to the recommendation that the state abandon lethal injection and move toward a firing squad.
“If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution,” the Judge wrote. “Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting