Arizona had never tried the two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone before it injected an unknown dose into Joseph Wood’s veins Wednesday afternoon. Most executions by lethal injection take between 10 and 20 minutes once the drugs are injected, if performed properly. This experimental cocktail took almost two hours to end Wood’s life, so long that his lawyer had time to file an emergency stay of execution in federal court, claiming that Wood had been “coughing and snorting for over an hour” by then. “I counted about 660 times he gasped,” reported an Arizona Republic reporter who witnessed the execution. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement that Wood “died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer.”
And of course, Jan Brewer is perfectly qualified to make that judgment given A. she wasn’t there and B. her advanced medical training and background.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly begged the courts to compel corrections officials to at least reveal the source of the drugs that would end their clients’ lives. They have repeatedly been refused. This time, Wood and his lawyers tried a First Amendment challenge to execution-secrecy laws, arguing that the public has a right to know how their government puts their fellow citizens to death. This would also give the inmates the facts needed to pursue Eighth Amendment challenges.
But so far, lower courts have deferred to the states’ claimed need for secrecy. “The information already released by the state enables informed debate about the lawfulness and propriety of Arizona’s two-drug cocktail,” replied federal Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit. Wood appealed that decision to the Supreme Court; last night, the justices denied his petition without further comment or dissent. Less than 24 hours later, Wood died choking.
Predictably, the git tuff types are howling back with false equivalents and other straw men regarding what Wood did to end up there (as if we should be using a murderer’s actions as our baseline for determining morality and legal punishments), and insisting that the witnesses themselves were wrong (even if they weren’t there).
When states were able to use the single-drug protocol with pentobarbital, the executions went smoothly. The problem here has been caused by those who pressured the suppliers to stop supplying pentobarbital, and any response should be directed at reopening that supply line.
The anti-death-penalty crowd is already throwing around their favorite word, “botched.” Wrong. Joseph Wood died, as he should have, and he was sedated, not suffering extreme pain or, for that matter, any pain. That is not “botched.”
Again, a pro-death penalty blogger (who wasn’t there and has no medical background or training) isn’t qualified to make that statement. Although I do like the way he assertively identifies the killer “Joseph Wood” by name…ironically, the Arizona Department of Corrections didn’t even know his name when they killed him initially, referring to him as “Robert G. Jones” in a press release. Jones, Wood, Smith, whoever.
More fascinating is that it took so long to be carried out, Wood’s lawyers had time to make an appeal in the courts to stop it, even getting Justice Anthony Kennedy on the phone from the Supreme Court.
In a bizarre twist, Mr. Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure as Mr. Wood lay on the gurney, and they even called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court.
“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the district court appeal, filed just after 3 p.m. “This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”
Mr. Wood died before the district court responded, while Justice Kennedy turned down the request to halt the procedure by telephone while Mr. Wood was still alive, said Robin Konrad, a lawyer for Mr. Wood.
Which makes no sense. What, “let’s see if he dies first and then make the call to stop it?” I have a hard time believing one of our supreme court justices could be that dense.
Regardless, as I wrote the other day, the death penalty itself is circling the drain and will eventually be relegated to the ash heap of history where it resides in most other civilized worlds. But it won’t be before the junkies (er pro-death penalty states experimenting with illicit drugs) and their supporters torture to death scores more in the process.
Cross posted from: The Power Elite