As Execution Dragged On, An Emergency Hearing Was Underway

July 25, 2014

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The phone hearing began with federal public defender Robin Konrad speaking with U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake in Phoenix.

The two are on the line at 3:27 p.m., according to a court transcript.

“Mr. Wood’s execution started at 1:52,” Konrad said. “He was being sedated 1:57. Since that time he has been gasping, snorting and unable to breathe and not dying. And we’re asking – our motion asks for you to issue an emergency stay and order the Department of Corrections to start lifesaving techniques as required under their protocol.” 

They looped in a lawyer for the state, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Zick, to the call.  

Zick reported that a medical professional said the inmate was making an involuntary snoring sound, but was unconscious and effectively brain dead. He also said a second dose of drugs had been administered.

“Do you have the leads connected to determine his brain state,” Wake asked Zick.

“That, I don’t – I don’t believe there are leads connected on the head, but I’m not sure,” Zick responded. “I know that this individual is medically trained.”

“Well, if there are not monitors connected with him, if it is just a visual observation, that is very concerning as not being adequate,” Wake said.

At 3:39 p.m. Zick had an update.

He had learned that the inmate’s heart rate had slowed considerably and the snoring stopped.

To this, Wake said: “Now, of course I am considering right now based on what’s presented to me whether the execution should be suspended, but I am also – it would be most helpful to know what the director intends to do immediately.”

Wake was referring to Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan.

Wake added, “I am also very concerned, Ms. Konrad, that depending on the accuracy of the information Mr. Zick has passed on that suspending the execution may do more harm than good.”

There was a brief five-minute recess as Zick gathered more information.

Zick got back on the line at 3:47 p.m.

He said the IV team leader told him “he cannot change course at this point.”

Zick reported Wood’s heart rate was 20 and falling, he was comatose and the plan was to increase the dose of drugs.

“In talking with the director, who has been in consultation with the IV team leader, there has been no appearance of any pain,” Zick said.

A few minutes later Zick suddenly said “Wait.”

Wood was dead. His death was confirmed at 3:49 p.m.

Wake told the two attorneys that “it is my judgment, that there was not a serious prospect of pain and that terminating the execution did not have prospect of eliminating pain, and even without my medical expertise, raises serious questions of whether keeping him alive could result in pain.”

To this, Konrad argued that a finding of no evidence of pain is premature.

Wake interrupted Konrad to clarify his point.

“I am not finding that there was not pain before,” Wake said. “I’m not finding that at all. I’m addressing the circumstance that we are in now.”

The court transcript reveals that additional drugs were given to Wood on at least two occasions during the execution. Wood's attorneys want to know what those drugs were, and the dose and the timing they were administered. They are calling for an independent investigation of the execution.

The Department of Corrections, meanwhile, is carrying out an internal review.