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The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison, completed in 2010. (Photo: CA Dept of Corrections)

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison, completed in 2010. (Photo: CA Dept of Corrections)

In Botched Execution, Man Given 15 Experimental Lethal Injections

Records reveal Joseph Wood, whose grisly execution grabbed global headlines last week, was given an 'unprecedented' injection of drugs

Sarah Lazare

Arizona's execution last week of death row prisoner Joseph Wood garnered international headlines when Wood took nearly two hours to die, gulping and snorting 660 times on the gurney following his injection with an experimental cocktail of lethal drugs. Now it has been revealed that, by the time he passed away, Wood had been given 15 times the sedative and painkiller recommended by state protocol.

Records released to Wood's lawyers on Friday show Wood was administered with 50 milligrams each of midazolam and hydromorphone 15 times before he was pronounced dead. The Arizona Department of Corrections admitted Friday that they a total of 750 milligrams of each drug throughout the execution. Arizona's protocol (pdf) for lethal injections prescribes 50 milligrams of each drug, meaning Wood was given far beyond the recommended dose.

“The execution logs released today by the Arizona Department of Corrections show that the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised,” Dale Baich, one Wood's lawyers, declared in a written statement. "Instead of the one dose as required under the protocol, A.D.C. injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, resulting in the most prolonged execution in recent memory.”

Medical experts told the New York Times that the dosage levels Wood received are unprecedented. "They're making this up as they go along," said Joel Zivot, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University Hospital.

Wood's was at least the third botched execution using experimental drugs this year, in which men appeared to show pain and distress following their lethal injection, prompting accusations of 'cruel and unusual punishment.' The drug midazolam was used in all three incidents, and medical experts have warned that a cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, which is new and untested, could cause excessive suffering. States have increasingly turned to the untested cocktails following a European ban on sales of the drugs for use in executions.

Arizona’s attorney general has ordered a temporary stop to state executions pending a review of Wood's case.

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