A defense attorney, a government lawyer and a federal judge on a conference call grappled with whether to abort the unexpectedly prolonged execution of an Arizona inmate on Wednesday.
More than an hour into the execution of convicted killer Joseph Wood, his attorneys filed an emergency motion to begin lifesaving treatment because their client appeared to gasp and snore in the death chamber.
A lawyer from the state attorney general's office contended that Wood, 55, was already brain dead due to a second dose of lethal drugs, according to a transcript of the conference call. The sounds and movements from Wood were an "involuntary reaction," Jeffrey Zick said.
"That involuntary reaction continues, but I am told that Mr. Wood is effectively brain dead and that this is the type of reaction that one gets if they were taken off of life support," Zick said to U.S. District Judge Neil Wake and pro bono defender Robin Konrad.
Before the judge could issue a ruling, he learned that Wood had been confirmed dead, two hours after the execution began.
The transcript of the call reveals what happened before Wood, who killed his former girlfriend and her father, died.
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Judge Wake appeared troubled to hear that the claim that Wood was brain dead was based on a visual inspection of the inmate. Zick said he didn't believe there was any monitor measuring Wood's brain activity.
"Well, if there are not monitors connected with him, if it's just a visual observation, that is very concerning as not being adequate," Wake said.
Before the judge could make a decision, Zick said he had received word that Wood had ceased snoring and that "his heart has slowed considerably."
With Wood's medical state in limbo, Wake was unsure how to proceed. "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."
As the call proceeded, Zick interrupted to say that he'd been informed that Wood's heart rate had dropped very low and that he was "apparently comatose and that he cannot change course at this point."
Those performing the execution planned to give Wood another dose of drugs, Zick said.
More than 20 minutes into the call and faced with Wood's deteriorating condition, Konrad asked the judge to halt the execution.
"Judge Wake, when we filed this motion 45 minutes ago when we got word he was gasping for over an hour, our request was to immediately stay the execution and perform lifesaving techniques. I'm not a medical professional," Konrad said. "Mr. Zick has said the situation has changed. Without any further information, I'm not sure what more to say other than we're requesting the stay of execution. I'm not sure if that's possible at this time."
Wake appeared ready to rule against stopping the execution when he was informed by Zick that Wood was dead.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has ordered a review of Wood's execution.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the name of Wood's lawyer. It is Robin Konrad, not Rachel Konrad.