Arizona to change execution drugs; judge OKs Oklahoma lethal injections

Arizona to change execution drugs; judge OKs Oklahoma lethal injections
Joseph Rudolph Wood III was executed by lethal injection in Arizona on July 23. (Arizona Department of Corrections)

Arizona plans to stop employing the drug combination it used to execute an inmate who took nearly two hours to die, the head of the state Department of Corrections said. Also on Monday, a federal judge in Oklahoma upheld that state's lethal injection protocol, thereby ruling executions could resume.

In July, inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood III was injected with 15 separate doses of the drug combination — hydromorphone and midazolam — because the initial dose didn't seem to be enough to kill him, according to documents the Corrections Department released to Wood's attorney.


An independent review found that throughout the July 23 execution, Wood "was fully sedated, was totally unresponsive to stimuli, and as a result did not suffer," Corrections Department Director Charles L. Ryan said Monday in a statement.

However, Ryan told Gov. Jan Brewer in a letter Monday that the department will stop using that drug protocol. Instead, it will add two three-drug combinations as options. One-drug protocols — using either pentobarbital or Sodium Pentothal — will also remain options, Ryan said, although the state has recently been unable to procure those chemicals.

Wood, 55, 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.

Witnesses and his attorneys said Wood gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes before he died.

According to the review, the Pima County medical examiner, Dr. Gregory Hess, “noted that gasps, snorting, and body reflexes are the normal bodily responses to dying” but “provided no explanation of why the drugs did not result in death in a short time period.”

An independent physician also could not explain why the first dose of drugs was not enough, the review said.

Wood was the only inmate executed in Arizona this year. The state has 121 inmates on death row, but no upcoming executions are scheduled, a spokesman for the Arizona Corrections Department told the Los Angeles Times.

In Oklahoma, more than 20 death row inmates sued after the April execution of Michael Worthington, who writhed, mumbled and lifted his head during the 43 minutes between when his execution began and when he died. Toward the end, the state called off the execution, but Worthington died minutes later of a heart attack. Lockett, 38, had been convicted of the 1999 kidnapping and murder of Stephanie Neiman in Perry, Okla.

In their lawsuit, inmates claimed the first drug administered, meant to render the person unconscious before the lethal mixtures were injected, did not work properly. A state investigation, on the other hand, blamed the problems in carrying out the sentence on the use and monitoring of an intravenous line.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot determined that Oklahoma's lethal injection protocols are constitutional.

The state has purchased new medical equipment, adopted new execution protocols and ordered more training, and prison officials say they're ready for the execution of Charles Frederick Warner on Jan. 15. Three other lethal injections have been scheduled through March 5.

Times staff writer Cindy Carcamo contributed to this report. The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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