FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) — Joseph Rudolph Wood looked around the death chamber and glanced at the people making preparation for his execution, locating the proper veins and inserting two lines into his arms.
Wood then uttered his final words, smiled at the victim's family members and made eye contact with a chaplain. Just after declaring that he was at peace with his death, he smiled at the chaplain, but for a second, a subtle look of panic took over his face.
Officials administered the lethal drugs at 1:52 p.m. Wood's eyes closed.
About 10 minutes later, the gasping began.
Wood's jaw dropped, his chest expanded, and he let out a gasp. The gasps repeated every five to 12 seconds. They went on and on, hundreds of times. An administrator checked on him a half-dozen times. He could be heard snoring loudly when an administrator turned on a microphone to inform the gallery that Wood was still sedated, despite the audible sounds.
As the episode dragged on, Wood's lawyers frantically drew up an emergency legal appeal, asking federal and state courts to step in and stop the execution.
"He has been gasping for more than an hour," the lawyers pleaded in their filings. "He is still alive."
The Arizona Supreme Court convened an impromptu telephone hearing with a defense lawyer and attorney for the state to decide what to do.
Wood took his last breath at 3:37 p.m. Twelve minutes later, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles L. Ryan declared Wood dead. The state court was informed of the death while its hearing was underway.
It took one hour and 57 minutes for the execution to be completed, and Wood was gasping for more than an hour and a half of that time.
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