Independent Report Gives Good Review of Arizona's Two-Hour Execution of Joseph Wood

An independent report on the two-hour execution of Joseph Wood earlier this year gives a positive review of how the Arizona Department of Corrections carried out the execution.

This report was commissioned by the state after the extraordinarily long execution, which went on for so long that Wood's federal public defender actually secured an emergency hearing before a judge in a bid to stop the execution, as Wood was repeatedly pumped with more and more doses of the lethal-injection drugs. Several witnesses reported Wood had a bizarre throughout, with one reporter saying Wood "gulped like a fish on land."

"The report is clear that the execution of inmate Wood was handled in accordance with all department procedures, which, as the report states, either meet or exceed national standards," Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan says in a statement. "It was done appropriately and with the utmost professionalism."

See also: -Attorney: Prison Officials Violated Protocol by Giving 15 Doses of Lethal-Injection Drug -Arizona Death Penalty Still in Limbo After Botched Execution

The report was done by an independent consulting company, with a three-member team consisting of former executives of other state prison systems.

The report includes no real criticism of the event, in which Wood was the first, and only, Arizonan to be subject to a new lethal-drug combination. Despite this, the report recommends ditching that combination of drugs, and ADC Director Ryan has accepted that recommendation.

In a letter to Governor Jan Brewer, Ryan says the new standard will be one of two three-drug mixes, either Midazolam, Vecuronium Bromide, and Potassium Chloride, or Sodium Pentothal, Vecuronium Borime, and Potassium Chloride.

"The three-drug protocol using Midazolam as the first drug has been successfully utilized by Florida in eight recent executions and it is a current protocol in four other states," Ryan says in his letter.

A press release from ADC highlights that the independent report says the Wood execution wasn't "botched," as so often has been claimed. That's not exactly the case, as the report very carefully worded its statement on whether the execution was botched (emphasis ours):

"It is clear that the execution of Wood and the resulting time delays cannot be correlated to the issues that occurred with the execution on April 29, 2014 of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. In the case of Lockett, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has acknowledged that the catheters and IV had not been properly placed thus restricting the flow of the drugs. Nothing similar to that occurred in the Wood execution. The process and the implementation of the protocol was not 'botched' as has been described in the Lockett execution".
Indeed, the report says the protocol was carried out well. People like Wood's public defender have called the execution "botched" because it took so long that there was a court hearing in the middle of the execution on whether to stop the execution. Wood actually did die during that hearing.

Speaking of Wood's attorney, federal public defender Dale Baich, he sent us the following statement when we asked for his reaction to the report: "The Arizona execution protocol explicitly stated that a prisoner would be executed using 50 milligrams of hydromorphone and 50 milligrams of midazolam. The report released today does not answer the question of why the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised. The state should release all of the documentation and witness reports that went into this review. Only through discovery in a court of law will there be a truly independent and comprehensive examination of what went wrong during Mr. Wood's nearly two-hour execution."

Indeed, that's been a big issue for Baich, who continues to fight Arizona's execution protocol from various angles, even after Wood's execution. And he's right -- the report doesn't address what's been one of his biggest issues surrounding the execution.

Baich has insisted that the state violated the execution protocols, which say that if the prisoner doesn't die within a reasonable amount of time, the director can order that the execution team "administer an additional dose of the lethal chemical(s)."

Wood was given 15 doses in total, which certainly seems to be more than "an additional dose."

"It was an experiment that failed," Baich told us in a previous interview. "The Department of Corrections said that one dose was sufficient to carry out the execution, and it was wrong."

The independent report released yesterday essentially validates the state's thinking on that, citing a corrections health expert who said the dosage should be enough to kill someone.

Despite this report validating the execution, a group death-row prisoners and a legal group representing media organizations continue a federal lawsuit challenging several aspects of Arizona's process for executions.

The independent report is embedded below:

Report on Wood execution

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley