As condemned Arizona killer Joseph Rudolph Wood III lay dying for nearly two hours on the execution table in state prison, his lawyer frantically pleaded over the phone with a federal judge to halt the botched lethal injection.
A transcript released Thursday of the call reveals a 30-minute conversation in which public defender Robin Konrad sought a stay of execution for Wood after the execution had already begun and appeared to be going wrong. Konrad spoke on the phone with federal district Judge Neil Wake and Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jeff Zick.
The execution was supposed to last 10 minutes, but about 10 minutes after it began, Konrad said, Wood began to breathe and opened his mouth. “He has been gasping and snorting for over an hour,” she said, citing an attorney at the scene.
Zick then said that a medical professional at the scene said that Wood had exhibited “an involuntary reaction or a snoring-type reaction,” but that he was unconscious.
“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. “The brain stem is working but there’s no brain activity.”
Wake then asked if there were leads connected to Wood’s head to determine if he was brain dead. Zick said he didn’t believe there were, but repeated that it was the opinion of a medical professional that he was brain dead.
“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. Zick soon received an update from those at the scene that Wood had stopped snoring and his heart beat had slowed.
At that point, the judge put the call on hold so that the assistant attorney general could get an update from the prison. The call picked up again four minutes later, and Zick reported that the doctor believed Wood was “comatose … and cannot change course at this point.” The plan was to increase the chemical dosage through an IV.
“In talking with the director, who has been in consultation with the IV team leader, there has been no appearance of any pain,” Zick said when asked by Wake if there was any further risk of pain.
“It does appear to me that there is no serious risk of pain being experienced at this time. Now, maybe I should qualify that, that there — we have to deal with degrees of uncertainty, but it does not appear that with lack of physical reaction that there is pain,” Wake said as he began to issue his judgment.
Before he could finish, Zick interjected. “I’m sorry, Judge,” he said.
“Go ahead,” Wake said.
“I just learned that the IV team leader has confirmed Mr. Wood’s death,” Zick said.
“All right,” Wake said. “Let me finish my thought, because it’s my responsibility.”
He went on to offer his judgement in light of the fact that Wood was already dead. He gave Konrad the chance to say something at the end of the conversation, but wanted to make sure it was in the proper context.
“I am not finding that there was not pain before,” Wake said. “I’m not finding that at all. I’m addressing the circumstance that we are in now. With the necessity of having had even this extremely accelerated discussion, I am addressing the situation now, and that’s what I’m addressing.
“So I do invite you to say whatever you would like about that. But I did not want you to misunderstand me as suggesting that there had been a lack of pain before. That is a matter that may come before the Court in plenary matter soon.”
Read the full transcript below.