A drawn-out killing


Joseph Wood should have taken ten minutes to die by lethal injection in an Arizona prison this week for the double murder 25 years ago of his former girlfriend and her father. Instead, the execution lasted two hours, during which he was seen gasping and snorting - one eyewitness counted more than 600 gasps. It was “very disturbing to watch...like a fish on shore gulping for air”, according to another. Arizona governor Jan Brewer has ordered a full review of the execution, the latest in a succession of botched killings by lethal injection in the United States, although she insists it was carried out “in a lawful manner”.

Woods was killed with a combination of two drugs including the sedative midazolam, which was also used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma earlier this year. Lockett’s execution was halted after 20 minutes, during which he was seen grimacing, trying to lift his head and clenching his jaw, but he died of a heart attack a few minutes later. An Ohio inmate put to death in January with the same two-drug combination as Woods was also seen snorting and gasping during his execution, which lasted 25 minutes.

America’s executioners have been experimenting with lethal drug combinations since European manufacturers stopped supplying the chemicals that had been used in lethal injections for decades. This chemical experimentation, which usually involves drugs designed for use in hospitals, has introduced a grotesque new twist to the morally repugnant practice of capital punishment. It comes as more Americans are rejecting the death penalty, although a narrow majority remains in favour, and as a growing number of states have outlawed its use. Thirteen states have now abolished the death penalty, six of them since 2007, with Maryland outlawing the practice last year and the number of executions carried out in the US has fallen steadily in the past decade. Instead of conjuring up exotic new ways to kill their prisoners, the remaining states should follow suit and stop the executions altogether.

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