"He has been gasping for more than an hour," lawyers said in an emergency appeal to halt the botched execution of Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood yesterday. "He is still alive." As the hour mark passed, Wood's lawyers filed an appeal to a district court and even called Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the New York Times reports. Kennedy declined to halt the execution, while the district court didn't respond until after Wood had died, almost two hours into a process that usually takes around 10 minutes. Gov. Jan Brewer has ordered an investigation into the execution of the 55-year-old who murdered his estranged girlfriend and her father in 1989.
State officials say Wood was comatose and didn't suffer during the execution. "He was snoring," says a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general. "There was zero gasping or snorting, and that's just the truth. He was asleep." Members of the press who witnessed the execution, however, say they heard a lot of gasping:
- "He gulped like a fish on land," writes Michael Kiefer at the Arizona Republic. "The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed. And when the doctor came in to check on his consciousness and turned on the microphone to announce that Wood was still sedated, we could hear the sound he was making: a snoring, sucking, similar to when a swimming-pool filter starts taking in air."
- "Wood's jaw dropped, his chest expanded, and he let out a gasp. The gasps repeated every five to 12 seconds," writes Astrid Galvan at the AP. "They went on and on, hundreds of times. An administrator checked on him a half-dozen times. He could be heard snoring loudly when an administrator turned on a microphone to inform the gallery that Wood was still sedated, despite the audible sounds."
Wood's lawyer had sought to delay the execution over concerns about the source of the lethal-injection drugs and the qualifications of the executioners. A federal judge who ruled on the case called the lethal-injection system "inherently flawed" and argued for a return to firing squads