Prolonged Arizona execution will bring more scrutiny of death penalty

Prolonged Arizona execution will bring more scrutiny of death penalty
Death penalty opponent Joan Bundy protests the scheduled execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood in Arizona on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Arizona's lengthy execution of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood III will likely focus more attention on the nation's next executions, both scheduled for Aug. 6 in Missouri and Texas, death penalty experts said Thursday.

"I think the Department of Corrections [in each state] are really feeling the heat, and the bad thing is the more they feel the heat and more scrutiny they are under, the more secretive they will get," said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and a death penalty expert.


It took almost two hours for Wood, a 55-year-old convicted of a double murder in 1989, to die by lethal injection Wednesday, raising questions about whether constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment were violated.

The case is the third this year in which an inmate has taken a long time to die, and in which witnesses have said the inmate appeared to be in pain.

Wood's execution has already led to a national outcry among death penalty opponents, but reaction in the Grand Canyon State has been tame. However, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who experienced years of torture while a prisoner during the Vietnam War, told the execution was "terrible" and amounted to "torture."

Gov. Jan Brewer has ordered an internal probe of Wednesday's execution but has called the punishment lawful. She hasn't demanded a moratorium on future executions, but her office did say Thursday that "Brewer will keep all options on the table going forward."

There are no executions pending in Arizona, nor are any execution warrants anticipated in the immediate future, Brewer's spokeswoman said.

Thursday afternoon Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan issued a statement on Wood's death, stating that allegations of a botched execution were "pure conjecture."

"There is no medical or forensic evidence to date that supports that conclusion," Ryan said.

A physical autopsy from the Pima County Medical Examiner was completed this morning, he said.

"The Medical Examiner reported to the department that in regards to the placement of the IVs, they were 'perfectly placed'. He further explained to the department that the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins and there was no leakage of any kind, and that anything that was put through the IVs went into the veins," Ryan said in the statement.

Five Arizona Republican candidates for governor — and a Democrat — told the Arizona Republic they were stunned that it took two hours for Wood to die, but all stopped short of calling for the elimination of the death penalty in the state.

Liberal politicians who would normally be outspoken about such matters are also shying away from commenting on the Wood case.

Matthew Benson, a former Brewer advisor, said some of the reaction has likely been muted because it's a political year and even Democrats don't want to seem soft on crime.

"I think there are a number of Democrats who don't want to look like they are sympathizing with a double murderer," he said.

Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, in Tucson.


The lack of reaction is what's to be expected in such a conservative state, said Barrett Marson, who heads a public relations firm in Phoenix and served as spokesman for the Department of Corrections for three years.

"Arizonans like to be firm when it comes to criminals. While a lot of people are emotionally upset about a murderer who is having to gasp for breaths for an hour and a half, there are many more people who are saying, 'Look at the two people that he shot point blank. Look at their pain and suffering and look at the pain and suffering of the families,'" he said.

Marson said while people in Arizona may acknowledge the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, the general public here is immune to the suffering of those who commit violent and sometimes deadly crimes.

"We believe in an eye for an eye," Marson said.