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Arizona takes 2 hours to execute inmate

July 24: In another unexpectedly prolonged execution using disputed lethal injection drugs, a condemned Arizona prisoner yesterday repeatedly gasped for one hour and 40 minutes, according to witnesses, before dying at an Arizona state prison.

At 1.52pm yesterday, one day after the US Supreme Court overturned a stay of execution granted by a federal appeals court last Saturday, the execution of Joseph R. Wood III commenced.

But what would normally be a 10- to 15-minute procedure dragged on for nearly two hours, as Wood appeared repeatedly to gasp, according to witnesses including reporters and one of his federal defenders, Dale Baich.

State officials insisted that Wood had been comatose throughout the procedure and did not suffer. In a bizarre twist, Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure as Wood lay on the gurney, and they even called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the US Supreme Court.

“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the district court appeal, filed just after 3pm. “This execution has violated 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.”

Wood died before the district court responded, while Justice Kennedy turned down the request to halt the procedure by telephone while Wood was still alive, said Robin Konrad, a lawyer for Wood.

At 3.39pm, one of the defence lawyers placed an emergency call to three justices from the Arizona Supreme Court, which had authorised the execution at the last minute. But 10 minutes later, Wood lay dead.

“I can tell you, he was snoring,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general who was a witness. “There was zero gasping or snorting, and that’s just the truth. He was asleep.”

 
 
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