[guest post by Dana]
Yesterday, Joseph Rudolph Wood III was executed by lethal injection in Arizona. It took him nearly two hours to die.
His attorneys argued that he gasped and snorted throughout the ordeal, and referred to it as a “botched execution” and as such, it would fan the flames of the national debate about the death penalty.
It took so long for Wood to die after receiving an injection of midazolam combined with hydromorphone that his attorneys had time to file an emergency appeal asking officials to save his life as the drugs apparently failed to fully take hold.
“At 1:57 p.m [officials] reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe,” said the legal filing in federal court from public defender Jon M. Sands. “At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. … staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive.”
However, contrary to the claims made by Wood’s attorneys, Stephanie Grisham of the Arizona Attorney General’s office disagreed, claiming that Wood was not gasping, but rather snoring:
There was no gasping of air. There was snoring. He just laid there. It was quite peaceful.
Governor Brewer also weighed in. Due to the length of time it took for Woods to be executed, she ordered the Department of Corrections to do a full review:
“One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” Brewer said in a statement. “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.”
A few days prior to Wood’s execution, writing in a dissent to Wood’s appeal, U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski discussed the harsh reality of an execution, and an execution by lethal injection:
“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 beautiful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.
“But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”
Kozinski said he has voted in favor of capital punishment and remains “generally not opposed to the death penalty.” But he said states should scrap lethal injection protocols, which have flooded the federal courts with constitutional challenges.
“I personally think we should go to the guillotine, but shooting is probably the right way to go,” Kozinski said.
The guillotine was quick and “pretty much foolproof,” he said, but probably would not be accepted by the public. A firing squad would be “messy but effective.”
*His dissent could be read as much as an indictment of capital punishment as a call for harsher methods, however. He cited California’s inability to execute anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges.
“Old age, not execution, is the most serious risk factor for inmates at the San Quentin death row,” he wrote.
In calling for firing squads, Kozinski said, “Eight or 10 large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time.”
“If we as a society cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by a firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”
The background of the dissent is at the second link.
A few reactions to his comments:
“He is invested in being provocative,” UC Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring said. “And what he is doing is reacting to the way in which the public relations halo around lethal injection has dissolved in calendar year 2014.”
“Kozinski has always been a judge willing to push the boundaries. He’ll say things others are thinking but are afraid to admit,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA. “Whether one agrees with his endorsement of firing lines, he’s making an important point. We keep the death penalty, but try to mask it’s brutality.”