PHOENIX — The prolonged execution of Arizona death row inmate Joseph Wood was tantamount to torture, Sen. John McCain said.
The Arizona Republican told Politico he supports the death penalty in some cases, but the nearly two-hour execution involving a novel combination of drugs was carried out in a “terrible” way.
“The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That’s torture,” he told Politico on Thursday.
Wood’s last breaths were like “a fish on shore gulping for air,” reporter Troy Hayden said. Wood’s attorneys tried to stop the execution more than halfway through, with one calling it “bungled” and “botched.”
State officials and his victims’ relatives disagreed, saying Wood snored and didn’t appear to be in agony.
Reports that the execution was botched are “erroneous,” Charles Ryan, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said Thursday.
Wood was comatose and never in pain during his execution, Ryan said. The director said: “The record clearly shows the inmate was fully and deeply sedated … three minutes after the administration of the execution drugs.”
Suffering or not, Wood’s death Wednesday afternoon took too long, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said, and she has ordered the state’s Department of Corrections to review it.
Wood’s slow death is fueling a debate stirred up as states look for new drug combinations for lethal injections, thanks in part to pharmaceutical companies’ decisions to withhold or stop making drugs used in the past.
“It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes. We will renew our efforts to get information about the manufacturer of drugs as well as how Arizona came up with the experimental formula of drugs it used today,” attorney Dale Baich said in a statement.
He added, “Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution.”
One of the victims’ relatives had a strongly different view — that he didn’t suffer, and that he got what he deserved.
“I don’t believe he was gasping for air; I don’t believe he was suffering. It sounded to me like was snoring,” said the relative, Jeanne Brown.
“You don’t know what excruciating is. What’s excruciating is seeing your dad laying there in a pool of blood, seeing your sister laying there in a pool of blood. This man deserved it. And I shouldn’t really call him a man,” she said.
Wood had been convicted of murder and assault in the 1989 deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father.
The state used midazolam, an anesthetic, and hydromorphone, a narcotic painkiller that, with an overdose, halts breathing and stops the heart from beating. It’s one of the new combinations that states have tried — with some controversial results — after manufacturers based or operating in Europe stopped U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions.