FLORENCE, Ariz. -- Arizona's attorney general says a death row inmate is dead, nearly 2 hours after execution started.
Joseph Rudolph Wood, 55, was put to death in an apparently flawed procedure that took too long to conclude. An hour into the execution, his lawyers file emergency appeal, say he'd been "gasping" and "snorting" for an hour.
The gasping and snorting began shortly after a sedative and a pain killer were injected into Wood's veins Wednesday afternoon. He gasped more than 600 times over the next hour and 40 minutes.
An administrator checked on Wood a half dozen times. His breathing slowed down as a deacon said a prayer while holding a rosary. The 55-year-old stopped breathing at 3:37 p.m. and was pronounced dead 12 minutes later.
Arizona's highest court on Wednesday rejected a last-minute appeal that temporarily halted the execution of Wood.
Wood's execution had been delayed when the Arizona Supreme Court said it would consider whether he received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing.
The appeal also challenged the secrecy of the lethal injection process and the drugs that are used.
The state Supreme Court allowed the execution to move forward after considering the arguments.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Arizona to carry out its third execution in the last year following a closely watched First Amendment fight over the secrecy issue.
Wood's lawyers used a new legal tactic in which defense attorneys claim their clients' First Amendment rights are being violated by the government's refusal to reveal details about lethal injection drugs. Wood's lawyers were seeking information about the two-drug combination that will be used to kill him, including the makers of the drugs.
A federal appeals court ruled in Wood's favor before the U.S. Supreme Court put the execution back on track. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision marked the first time an appeals court has acted to delay an execution based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
The 9th Circuit gave new hope to death penalty opponents. While many death row inmates have made the same First Amendment argument as Wood, the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic. The court has ruled against them each time the transparency issue has come before the justices.
States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them because of concerns over harassment.
Wood also lost a different, last-ditch appeal in the Supreme Court early Wednesday.
Wood was sentenced to death for killing Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene Dietz, in 1989 at the family's automotive shop in Tucson.
Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship in which he periodically assaulted her. Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.
On the day of the shooting, Wood went to the auto shop and waited for Dietz's father, who disapproved of his daughter's relationship with Wood, to get off the phone. Once the father hung up, Wood pulled out a revolver, shot him in the chest and then smiled.
Wood then turned his attention toward Debra Dietz, who was trying to telephone for help. Wood grabbed her by the neck and put his gun to her chest. She pleaded with him to spare her life. An employee heard Wood say, "I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you." He then called her an expletive and fired two shots in her chest.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office, said the agency had no comment on the Supreme Court ruling but would issue a statement after Wood's execution.
Wood's attorney Dale Baich said, "The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect is harmful to our democracy because it prevents the public, the courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in compliance with all state and federal laws."
Arizona has executed 36 inmates since 1992. The two most recent executions occurred in October.
Two recent executions in other parts of the country have helped revive the death penalty debate in the U.S.
An Ohio inmate in January snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted the process of his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.
The fight over the Arizona execution has also attracted attention because of a dissenting judge's comments that made a case for a firing squad as a more humane method of execution.
"The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising," wrote Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit's chief judge. "Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful - like something any one of us might experience in our final moment."
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