Torture-As-Execution

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 24 2014 @ 12:55pm

Ben Crair is troubled by Joseph Rudolph Wood III’s two-hour-long death:

Arizona chose to become just the second state to use the same two drugs that Ohio used for McGuire, despite the apparent problems with that execution. A full picture of Wood’s death has not yet emerged, but the execution dragged on so long that Wood’s lawyers were able to file an appeal in U.S. district court during the procedure. The Arizona Department of Corrections insists nothing went wrong with Wood’s execution. Given the properties of the drugs that were used, it’s less likely that Wood suffered pain than Wilson or Lockett, both of whom were given a paralyzing drug. But lethal injections are supposed to be quick procedures, lasting no more than 10 or 15 minutes. If you start counting from when the drugs began to flow (as opposed to when the executioners first attempt to establish IV access), then Wood’s execution may have been the slowest in U.S. history.

This is, quite simply, barbarism. The guillotine was more merciful. Hartmann passes along the government’s spin:

State officials insist that Wood was never in pain. Attorney general’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham reported that Wood “went to sleep, and looked to be snoring.” “This was my first execution, and I was surprised by how peaceful it was,” she told the Associated Press. “There was absolutely no snorting or gasping for air.” Charles Ryan, the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said Wood made no movements or facial expressions aside from the snoring. “Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress,” Ryan said.

Mauricio Marin’s first-hand account doesn’t make that process sound so peaceful:

James Wood appeared to fall asleep, albeit strapped down to a table, and he looked straight ahead at the wall. The first 10 minutes went according to plan.

Then, a hard gulp. I looked over to my left: the priest praying the rosary. To my right: the family watching on. Then dead ahead: the side of Wood’s stomach appeared to move, even after the Arizona state prison’s medical staff had announced he was sedated.

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 just from the throat area and sometimes from the stomach, too.

He counted “660 gasps and gulps.” Matt Ford highlights what we don’t know about the recent series of botched executions:

Because the states will not share them, we don’t know the dosages of the drugs administered. We don’t know the drugs’ manufacturers or their quality-control procedures. We mostly don’t know the credentials of those administering the drugs. More importantly, the defendants don’t know any of this, either. Without this information, those sentenced to execution cannot challenge the execution procedures in court nor check for possible medical complications. State execution-secrecy laws, routinely upheld by lower courts but untested before the Supreme Court, prevent this basic level of prophylactic Eighth Amendment protection. If death by torture is not cruel, defendants contend, what is?

I cannot see how this grisly torture scene should survive constitutional review. But a court that could parse the grammar of a law to strip millions from health insurance is not going to protect someone on death row, are they?