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Joseph Wood: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

A botched execution in Arizona left inmate Joseph Wood gasping and snorting for air nearly two hours after the drug combination used in the execution was injected into his system.

The state had never tried this drug combination before Wood’s execution.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Wood Was Sentenced to Death for the 1989 Murders of His ex-Girlfriend & Her Father

ABC News reports that Wood was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, and her father, Gene Dietz.

On August 8, 1989, Wood walked into the body shop the Dietz family owned and shot Gene Dietz in the chest, according to ABC News. He later located Debbie Dietz and shot her in the chest and abdomen. He was sentenced to death on July 2, 1991 after being convicted of the crimes on February 25, 1991.


2. Arizona’s Governor Said Wood ‘Did not Suffer’ During His Execution

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has ordered an investigation into the execution. But Brewer, a Republican, said in a statement that Wood did not suffer.

Here’s part of Brewer’s statement, as reported by Time:

One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer.


3. Wood Gasped for air More Than 600 Times

While there are varying accounts as to how many times Wood gasped for air as he was dying, all of them bring the total to more than 600.

According to the Arizona Republic’s Michael Kiefer, Wood gasped for air about 640 times during his execution. An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution put the number of gasps at more than 600.

According to Mauricio Marin at Tuscon News Now, Wood gasped 660 times. While Wood’s execution has been called excruciating, the family of his victims disagrees. Jeannie Brown, Debbie Dietz’s sister and Gene Dietz’s daughter, said:

You don’t know what excruciating is. What’s excruciating is seeing your dad laying there in a pool of blood, seeing you sister laying there in a pool of blood. This man deserved it. And I shouldn’t really call him a man.


4. Wood’s Lawyers Tried to Halt the Execution

According to Time, Wood’s lawyers initially tried to get a stay for his execution, claiming the fact that Wood not knowing the origins of the drug cocktail that would be injected into his system was a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of Wood and issued a stay, but that was overturned. Wood’s lawyers tried to get a stay for him at the last minute, claiming the drug cocktail violated Wood’s Eighth Amendment rights in regard to cruel and unusual punishment, but Arizona’s Supreme Court did not grant the stay.

Wood’s lawyer had been filing a motion to resuscitate Wood during the execution, but he died as the case was being heard.

Here is the motion filed to halt Wood’s execution as it was taking place:

Here’s the original document that granted Wood a stay of execution:

And here’s the document that overturned Wood’s stay of execution:


5. Another Botched Execution Took Place in Ohio Using the Same Drug Combination

The same combination of drugs used to execute Joseph Wood was used in Ohio in January, yielding similar results.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire was injected with the same cocktail after being sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and murdering a pregnant woman. McGuire showed similar signs of gasping and choking during the injection, but died 25 minutes after it was administered, according to NBC News.

In April, Clayton D. Lockett, a prisoner in Oklahoma, died of a heart attack in an execution chamber after the administration of drugs in his execution went awry. The New York Times reports Lockett was first injected with a sedative to block pain. After 10 minutes he was pronounced unconscious. Doctors then inserted a paralytic drug and a drug intended to stop his heart. Lockett tried to rise and exhaled loudly after those drugs were injected into his system, revealing what doctors called a “vein failure.” The combination of drugs without a sedative are known to result in what the Times calls, “agonizing suffocation and pain.”

According to Megan McCraken of the University of California Berkeley School of Law’s Death Penalty Clinic, a lack of drug availability has lead states to try new combinations.

McCraken told the London Evening Standard,“States have been scrambling to find new sources of drugs. They have been experimenting. These procedures are unreliable and the consequences are horrific.”

The 32 U.S. states that allow the death penalty have faced a shortage of drugs as European manufacturers faced pressures from anti-death penalty groups to stop selling the drugs to U.S. prisons. According to CBS News, British activist Maya Foa went public with information tying sales of pentobarbital, the drug most commonly used in U.S. executions, to Danish company Lundbeck. This information enveloped the company in scandal and Lundbeck subsequently stopped selling pentobarbital to U.S. prisons.

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2 comments

  1. How many times did his victims GASP for air before they died.
    Hope he suffered more than Debbie Dietz and her father did whom he shot in cold blood.
    We never here about the innocent victims only the killer, why is that?

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