What happened Wednesday afternoon to Joseph Wood in Arizona was a state-sponsored, judicially sanctioned human experiment that went terribly wrong. The subject of the experiment, a convicted murderer, was supposed to die. And eventually he did. But it was not supposed to take nearly two hours for Arizona to kill him. The lethal drugs that prison officials dripped into his body weren’t supposed to cause him to gasp for air for an hour and 40 minutes before he died, as his lawyer reported, or gasp over 600 times, as a media eyewitness recounted.
By the time dusk came to the desert, the Arizona attorney general had issued a triumphant press release so negligently drafted that at first it included the name Robert Jones, a death row inmate Arizona executed last October. The Arizona governor had also declared success, dutifully promised an investigation, and yet at the same time mocked claims that Wood had suffered during the course of the long procedure. And the Arizona Supreme Court, which had permitted the execution to proceed earlier in the day, and which was holding a hearing to stop the botched execution at the very moment it learned that Wood at last was dead, demanded that the state preserve the drugs used to finish him off.