TUCSON, Ariz. - Arizona executioners injected Joseph Rudolph Wood with a lethal combination of drugs 15 times during the nearly two hours it took for him to die, according to documents released Friday.
Wood's July 23 execution renewed debate over the death penalty and the efficacy of lethal injection. It was the third execution to go awry in the U.S. this year.
Arizona officials say Wood, who was convicted of a 1989 double-murder, never suffered and was completely sedated. His attorney says it was a "horrifically botched execution" that should have taken 10 minutes.
Records released to Wood's attorneys show he was administered the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone in 50-milligram increments 15 times, for a total of 750 milligrams of each drug. He was pronounced dead after gasping more than 600 times while he lay on the table.
"Those are pretty staggering amounts of medication," said Karen Sibert, a longtime anesthesiologist and spokeswoman for the California Society of Anesthesiologists.
Sibert, an associate professor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said patients who are sedated before a surgery typically receive no more than 2 milligrams each of midazolam and hydromorphone.
"It would be rare that I would use more than 2 milligrams even for a lengthy surgery," Sibert said. "If that is accurate, that is absolutely a lethal dose."
An Ohio inmate gasped in similar fashion for nearly 30 minutes in January. An Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.
States have refused to reveal details about their lethal injection procedures, such as which pharmacies are supplying the drugs and who is administering them, because of concerns over harassment. Woods had filed several appeals that were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he and the public have a right to those details. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases.
States are also under pressure to find sources for execution drugs after European drug companies objected to their use in capital punishment.
Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, said the newly released dosage details show why an independent investigation of Wood's execution by a nongovernmental authority is necessary.
"The Arizona execution protocol explicitly states that a prisoner will be executed using 50 milligrams of hydromorphone and 50 milligrams of midazolam," he said in a written statement. "The execution logs released today by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows that the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised."
Gov. Jan Brewer ordered a review of the state's execution process, saying she's concerned by how long it took for the drug protocol to kill Wood. The Arizona Department of Corrections said Friday it is seeking an outside investigator for the independent inquiry.
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