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Arizona execution: Gasping criminal's 2-hr execution stirs death penalty debate

An Arizona execution gone bad is the latest in a string of botched death sentences, intensifying the debate on the merits of capital punishment. Condemned murderer 55-year-old Joseph Rudolph Wood was scheduled to be put to death at 2:00 p.m. by lethal injection. Wood did indeed die – but it took an hour and 57 minutes for him to expire, during which time he was “gasping” for air.

The Associated Press today, via MSN News, said that Wood took so long to die, “his lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal while it was ongoing. The Arizona Supreme Court also called an impromptu hearing on the matter and learned of his death during the discussions.”

“He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” Wood's lawyers wrote in a desperate appeal asking the court to halt his execution and provide Wood with medical attention. “He is still alive.”

Wood’s bungled execution is the third such prolonged capital punishment this year alone. Writes the AP:

Earlier this year in Ohio, an inmate gasped in similar fashion for nearly a half-hour. An Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.

States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them out of concerns that the drug makers could be harassed. States have been scrambling to find potentially lethal drugs as several European-based pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply them if they are intended for executions.

The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, said she wants a full investigation done as to why Wood’s execution took so long.

Arizona’s Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan assured the media that at no time was Wood conscious or in any pain. “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,” Ryan said. However, an Associated Press reporter at the execution witnessed Wood gasp for air over 600 times.

An attorney for Wood, Dale Baich, said a 10-minute execution took a mortifying two hours – a “horror” to witness.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” Baich said. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

Wood was convicted of the 1989 murder of Debbie Dietz and her father Gene Dietz. Relatives of the Dietz’s who witnessed the protracted execution said they had no issue with how long it took to kill Wood.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, ‘Let's worry about the drugs,’” said Richard Brown, the brother-in-law of Debbie Dietz. “Why didn't they give him a bullet, why didn't we give him Drano?”