TUCSON, Ariz. - During the nearly two hours it took for an Arizona death row inmate to die last week, executioners injected him with 15 times the amount of a sedative and a painkiller that they originally intended to use, according to documents released Friday.
Records released to Joseph Rudolph Wood's attorneys show he was administered midazolam and hydromorphone in 50-milligram increments 15 times between 1:53 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., for a total of 750 milligrams of each drug. He was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m. after gasping more than 600 times while he lay on the table.
Arizona's execution protocol calls for 50 milligrams of each drug, although some states use as much as 500 milligrams of midazolam in their execution procedures.
The Arizona state prison is shown where the nearly two hour execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood took place on July 23, in Florence, Ariz. Wood was convicted in the 1989 shooting deaths of Debbie Dietz, 29, and Gene Dietz, 55, at an auto repair shop in Tucson.
"Those are pretty staggering amounts of medication. They did not shortchange in the dose," said Karen Sibert, a longtime anesthesiologist and spokeswoman for the California Society of Anesthesiologists.
Sibert, an associate professor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said patients who are sedated before a surgery typically receive no more than 2 milligrams each of midazolam and hydromorphone.
"It would be rare that I would use more than 2 milligrams even for a lengthy surgery," Sibert said. "If that is accurate, that is absolutely a lethal dose."
Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, said the dosage details show why an independent investigation of Wood's execution by a nongovernmental authority is necessary.
"The Arizona execution protocol explicitly states that a prisoner will be executed using 50 milligrams of hydromorphone and 50 milligrams of midazolam," he said in a written statement. "The execution logs released today by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows that the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised. Instead of the one dose as required under the protocol, ADC injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, resulting in the most prolonged execution in recent memory."
Wood's July 23 execution renewed debate over the death penalty and the efficacy of lethal injection. It was the third execution to go awry in the U.S. this year.
An Ohio inmate gasped in similar fashion for nearly 30 minutes in January. An Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.