Arizona inmate takes two hours to die in botched execution using experimental two-drug cocktail

The state of Arizona has taken one hour and 57 minutes to kill a prisoner in a botched execution, which was carried out using the same combination of drugs as those used in the botched execution of an Ohio prisoner earlier this year.

Joseph Wood, 55, was eventually pronounced dead at 3.49pm local time after he had been seen ‘gasping and snorting’ over an hour into his execution, according to an emergency stay filed mid-execution by his lawyers as they saw what was happening.

Wood was executed using the drugs Midazolam and Hydromorphone, a combination that has been used only once before in an execution that also went badly wrong in Ohio in January. Dennis McGuire was seen struggling and gasping for breath during an execution that took over 25 minutes.

The botched execution of Wood follows that of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April. Both states insisted on conducting the executions behind a veil of secrecy, refusing to name the manufacturers of the drugs or provide critical details which could have helped assure their quality.

Like Lockett, Wood had received a stay just moments prior to the execution so that the court could consider the issue of the experimental drugs. However that stay was then lifted and Wood’s execution began at 1.52pm local time.

There are just a handful of manufacturers of both Midazolam and Hydromorphone which do not yet have comprehensive distribution controls in place to ensure their medicines are used to improve and save the lives of patients, and are not sold to prisons to end the lives of prisoners in potentially torturous executions. International human rights NGO Reprieve has worked extensively with pharmaceutical companies, the majority of which have taken steps to protect their medicines from abuse in executions like this one.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “The State of Arizona had every reason to believe that this procedure would not go smoothly; the experimental execution ‘cocktail’ had only been used once before, and that execution too was terribly botched. Despite the evidence, the state pushed ahead, jettisoning due process and cloaking the procedure in secrecy. The result was an exercise in torture. No one in the medical profession or industry wants anything to do with executions. Manufacturers and medics have long protested the abuse of medicines (which are designed to save lives) in executions designed to end them. How many more botched executions must we witness before states finally take heed?”

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1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells: 001 929 258 2754 / clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk