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A Long, Sedated Execution Is Neither a Cruel One Nor a "Botched" One

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The Federal Public Defender for Arizona has filed a motion to stop the execution of Joseph Wood already in progress.  The first paragraph says:

The Arizona Department of Corrections began the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III at 1:52 p.m. At 1:57 p.m ADC reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe. At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. At that time, staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive. This execution has violated Mr. Wood's Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment.
The conclusion does not follow from the premises.  The motion does not dispute the ADC's conclusion that Wood is sedated.  If he is sedated, he is not in pain, and nothing happening here remotely qualifies as "cruel."  Gasping and snorting do not necessarily mean a person is in pain, and if he is sedated he certainly is not.

When states were able to use the single-drug protocol with pentobarbital, the executions went smoothly.  The problem here has been caused by those who pressured the suppliers to stop supplying pentobarbital, and any response should be directed at reopening that supply line.

Update:  AP reports the Arizona AG says the execution is completed, though it took about 2 hours.

The anti-death-penalty crowd is already throwing around their favorite word, "botched."  Wrong.  Joseph Wood died, as he should have, and he was sedated, not suffering extreme pain or, for that matter, any pain.  That is not "botched."

2 Comments

Au contraire, I believe the anti-death penalty crowd's favorite word is "innocent." "Botched" gets the silver medal.

These people are shameless.

There are two relevant questions under Baze. The first is whether the defense pre-execution established with their own evidence a substantial likelihood of severe pain.

They didn't. They did not discharge their burden, and, under the law that governs this question, the state has no obligation to help them make their case. This is not the guilt phase where the government is required to furnish discovery.

The second question, at least arguably within Baze's orbit, is whether the defendant did in fact suffer severe pain. The defense has not borne its burden there either. Specifically, they have not shown that he was conscious during the snorting and alleged gasping, all of which can and often does occur with a dying person even though consciousness, and therefore pain, has long since vanished.

Death very seldom looks or sounds good, particularly in its end stages where the dying person is no longer mentally there. This one didn't either. But the legal question is not about aesthetics. The Baze question asks specifically about experienced pain, and the evidence of that -- which is impressionistic in this case to the extent it exists at all -- is what the other side would like to put out with a lot of florid verbiage. Florid verbiage might win the day in the New York Times, but it tends to lose in court.

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