Botched execution sparks death penalty debate

Joseph Wood was reportedly gasping for air more than 600 times before being pronounced dead. Photo: Reuters

Why is America putting death inmates on an untested concoction of chemicals?

It's the question the country has been asking itself today after the execution of Joseph Wood yesterday.

He was injected in a death chamber in Arizona at 1.52pm. He was pronounced dead at 3.49pm.

Those who witnessed the execution from a neighbouring room spoke of Wood gasping for air more than 600 times.

He was given a dose of the anaesthic midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone - the same mixture of drugs administered to Dennis McGuire in January.

There was a debate about his execution after he took 25 minutes to die.

The problem in America's death chambers has been caused in part by an export ban in the EU.

It means the states in which the death penalty remains legal have struggled to get hold of the sedative sodium thiopental.

One appeals judge here recently questioned whether the guillotine might be a more humane way to execute those on death row.

Relatives of the two people killed by Wood were incredulous at the way in which so much debate was taking place about the manner of his death.

The sister of Debra Dietz who was shot by Wood in 1989 said the "excruciating" pain was hers, when she saw her family members in a pool of blood.

But while President Obama has said the prolonged executions were "deeply troubling" don't expect the US to change its mind on this issue.

Support for the death penalty remains high even though some states have abolished it. Eighteen States no longer use it - the most recent to change was Maryland in 2013.

The Attorney General has been ordered to look again the execution process but the debate that exists here is mostly about how to execute, not whether the state should have the right to take a life.