You want to be prepared to watch a man who has been prepared to die. Wednesday afternoon was scheduled to be the state of Arizona’s first time using this particular combination of lethal-injection drugs. But this was also my first time witnessing a state execution, so I made sure the state prison staff here had a notepad ready, and I asked my colleagues what it was supposed to be like…It’s all very clinical, I was told. The end of death row usually lasts about 10 minutes.
This was not what I saw inside the execution chamber when Joseph Wood died. That took 117 minutes, and it was clear that nothing was as it was supposed to be…
I saw a man who was supposed to be dead, coughing—or choking, possibly even gasping for air. I knew this because Wood’s stomach moved at the same time, just like it would if you were lying down and trying to breath. Then another of those gulps—those gasps for air, movements from the throat area and sometimes from the stomach, too.
I started looking at the priest’s watch to keep track of time. Five, 10, 20 minutes…an hour had passed. I started to wonder: Will this be called off? Will it ever stop?
I continued to scribble on my state-issued notepad, counting the gulps and gasps of the man on the gurney. I counted 660. This went on for over an hour and a half…
What seemed like an eternity passed—20, 30, 45 minutes more—and finally the gulps and gasps started to slow, from about every five seconds or so, to about one per minute. Finally, they stopped. A few minutes went by. At last, the killing had stopped, too. A medical staff member checked Wood again one last time. Another few minutes still, and the warden pronounced the killer dead, at 3:49pm, one hour and 57 minutes after the execution had begun….