The botched execution of Joseph Wood last month in Arizona showed that the state Corrections Department was "making it up as it went along,” says Wood's public defender. Now a New York Times investigation suggests the incident may be part of a greater pattern. Wood's lawyer continues: "There’s the protocol that’s in place and there’s what happens, and those aren’t necessarily the same thing." What's supposed to happen is dictated by the state's written lethal injection procedures, but the paper trail of five additional executions "describe a process whose rules are open to interpretation," write Times reporters Fernanda Santos and John Schwartz. This "rolling protocol" is inspiring "serious constitutional questions," says a US appeals court.
The Times runs down a few of these cases: In one execution, a doctor followed his own "preference" in inserting an IV line near the groin and not the arm as state rules dictate; in another, a convict complained of burning pain moments before he died, despite drugs designed to paralyze him. Fourteen of Arizona's 37 executions since 1992 have been overseen by the current Corrections chief, who has no medical training, but he's admitted, as the Times puts it, that "the state’s protocol gave him virtually unlimited discretion to deviate from the written guidelines." One expert also blames Corrections' blasé attitude, describing it thusly: "What’s the big deal, as long as the guy ends up dead and I’m not literally torturing the guy along the way?" The Times' entire report is here. (Read more death penalty stories.)