Execution of Joseph Wood

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Joseph Wood
Joseph Wood from Arizona.jpg
Mugshot of Wood
Joseph Rudolph Wood III

(1958-12-06)December 6, 1958[1]
DiedJuly 23, 2014(2014-07-23) (aged 55)
Conviction(s)1989: murder, assault
Criminal penaltyExecution by lethal injection (July 2, 1991)
VictimsDebra Dietz
Eugene Dietz[2]

The execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III occurred on July 23, 2014, at Florence State Prison in Arizona, with a two-hour lethal injection procedure that was described as "botched".[3] Wood gasped and snorted for an hour and fifty-seven minutes after the drugs were injected, with the entire procedure taking almost two hours; experts said the execution should have taken about ten minutes.[3]


Wood had been convicted of murder and assault for the August 7, 1989, killings of his estranged girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene Dietz.[4][5] Wood was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault against a police officer. He was sentenced to death for each murder and received 15-year prison sentences, set to run concurrently, for the aggravated assault convictions.[6]

Wood was scheduled to be executed with a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone, which had only been used once previously for the January 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio.[7] McGuire's execution had also been described as "botched", due to McGuire appearing to snort, gasp, and convulse during a procedure that lasted 25 minutes.[8][9] From 1890 to 2010, the rate of botched[a] lethal injections in the United States was 7.1%, higher than any other form of execution, with firing squads at 0%, the electric chair at 1.9%, hanging at 3.1%, and the gas chamber at 5.4%.[10]


The execution began at 1:52 p.m. MST and ended at 3:49 p.m. when Wood was pronounced dead. It involved injecting Wood with the drug cocktail of Midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a narcotic,[11] that was supposed to be lethal, 15 times, even though one dose was supposed to be sufficient to kill him.[12] Wood gasped and snorted for well over an hour,[13] and a media witness compared Wood's breathing to a "fish gulping for air".[14] An Associated Press reporter said Wood gasped more than 600 times. Experts stated that the execution should have taken about ten minutes.[3]

Wood's lawyers filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court an hour into the procedure, requesting that the prolonged execution be halted. In the motion, they wrote: "He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. ... He is still alive." The appeal was denied by Justice Anthony Kennedy, with word coming half an hour after Wood's death.[3]

After the execution, Debra Dietz's sister told the Associated Press: "What I saw today with him being executed, it is nothing compared to what happened on August 7, 1989," Jeanne Brown said. "What's excruciating is seeing your father lying there in a pool of blood, seeing your sister lying in a pool of blood."


Governor Jan Brewer ordered a review of the state's execution procedures, citing concern with the length of time it took Wood to die.[2] Regarding the execution, Brewer said: "One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims – and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family."[15]

Charles Ryan, director of Arizona's department of corrections, said in a statement: "Once the inmate was sedated, other than sonorous respiration, or snoring, he did not grimace or make any further movement. Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress."

Stephanie Grisham, then a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office, who was also a witness, said: "There was no gasping of air. There was snoring. He just laid there. It was quite peaceful."[16][17]

Maya Foa, of anti-death penalty group Reprieve, 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."

Dale Baich, Wood's public defender, decried the execution as a violation of the Constitution's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment", and said it could have been prevented.[13]

On July 24, 2014, Arizona temporarily halted executions following the Wood case, pending a review of its procedures.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Professor Austin Sarat of Amherst College defines a "botched" execution as one where "the executioners departed from official legal protocol or standard operating procedure".[10]


  1. ^ "Joseph R. Wood III". The Arizona Republic. September 4, 2003. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Arizona Inmate Dies 2 Hours After Execution Begins". The Associated Press. July 23, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d Hannon, Elliot (July 23, 2014). "Arizona Man Gasps and Snorts During Lethal Injection Execution That Took Nearly Two Hours". Slate. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  4. ^ Kiefer, Michael (July 22, 2014). "Supreme Court lifts stay of Arizona execution". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  5. ^ Chappell, Bill (July 23, 2014). "Arizona Execution Of Inmate Takes Nearly Two Hours". NPR. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  6. ^ http://www.leagle.com/decision/1994233180Ariz53_1222.xml/STATE%20v.%20WOOD
  7. ^ Berman, Mark (July 23, 2014). "Arizona execution lasts nearly two hours, witness says Joseph Wood was 'gasping and struggling to breathe'". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  8. ^ Serwer, Adam (July 23, 2014). "Another botched execution, this time in Arizona". MSNBC. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  9. ^ Ford, Dana; Fantz, Ashley (January 17, 2014). "Controversial execution in Ohio uses new drug combination". CNN. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Siegelbaum, Debbie (July 31, 2014). "America's 'inexorably' botched executions". BBC News. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  11. ^ Ortega, Bob (July 14, 2014). "Execution of Arizona murderer takes nearly 2 hours". The Republic. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
  12. ^ Serwer, Adam (August 2, 2014). "Lethal drugs injected 15 times in botched Arizona execution". MSNBC. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
  13. ^ a b Connor, Tracy (July 23, 2014). "Arizona Execution of Joseph Wood Took Nearly Two Hours". NBC. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  14. ^ Ford, Dana; Watts, Amanda; Hanna, Jason (July 23, 2014). "Inmate gasped, snorted during two-hour execution". CNN. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  15. ^ "Arizona execution takes two hours". BBC News. July 23, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  16. ^ Srikrishnan, Matt Pearce, Cindy Carcamo, Maya. "Arizona killer takes 2 hours to die, fueling lethal-injection debate - Los Angeles Times". latimes.com. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  17. ^ "It's Time to End Our State-Sponsored Barbarism". esquire.com. July 24, 2014. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  18. ^ "Arizona halts executions after Joseph Wood case". BBC News. July 24, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.