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Arizona inmate gasped, snorted during 'bungled' execution, died 2 hours later

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PHOENIX (ABC News/WJLA) - An inmate's execution with lethal drugs in Arizona Wednesday took almost two hours as the man gasped and snorted, prompting his lawyers to request an emergency halt to the procedure.

This undated file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood. (Arizona Department of Corrections, File/AP Photo)

"The execution of Joseph Wood commenced at 1:57 p.m. at the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC)-Florence and he was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m.," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in a statement.

Wood's attorneys filed a motion for emergency stay of the execution after Wood was reported “gasping and snorting for more than an hour,” according to court documents they filed.

"The experiment using midazolam combined with hydromorphone to carry out an execution failed today in Arizona. It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breath for about an hour and forty minutes," said Dale Baich, one of Joseph Wood’s attorneys. "We will renew our efforts to get information about the manufacturer of drugs as well as how Arizona came up with the experimental formula of drugs it used today. Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror -- a bungled execution.”

Wood, 55, was convicted of first-degree murder February 25, 1991, and sentenced to death July 2, 1991.

Wood was involved in an unstable five-year relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, during the time of the crime. On August 7, 1989, Wood walked into the local body shop owned by her family and shot Debbie’s 55-year-old father, Gene Dietz, in the chest with a .38 caliber revolver, according to a statement from the AG.

Wood later located Debbie, and shot her once in the abdomen and once in the chest, killing her as well, the document stated.

The ACLU said in a statement that executions should be stopped until it can be proved the drugs used work as intended. "Today the state of Arizona broke the Eighth Amendment, the First Amendment, and the bounds of basic decency. Joseph Wood suffered cruel and unusual punishment when he was apparently left conscious long after the drugs were administered. According to his emergency papers filed by his attorneys, he was choking and snorting over an hour into the process.

"In its rush to put Mr. Wood to death in secret, Arizona ignored the dire and clear warnings from the botched executions of Oklahoma and Ohio. It’s time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure. Instead of hiding lethal injection under layers of foolish secrecy, these states need to show us where the drugs are come from."

Wood's case highlighted scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after two controversial executions, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly, the Associated Press reported.

States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them, because of concerns over harassment.

Woods filed several appeals that were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, including one on the basis that his First Amendment rights were violated when the state refused to reveal details of his execution such as the supplier of the drugs.

The Arizona Supreme Court also delayed the execution Wednesday morning to consider a last-minute appeal about whether Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing. But about an hour later, the state's high court allowed the execution to proceed, the AP reported.

Wood argued he has a First Amendment right to details about the state's method for lethal injections, the qualifications of the executioner and who makes the drugs. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put the execution on hold, saying the state must reveal the information. But the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the tactic, ruling against death penalty lawyers on the argument each time it has been before justices.

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