LOS ANGELES - Arizona authorities on Thursday hit back at criticism of the execution of a double murderer who took two hours to die by lethal injection, denying the procedure was botched.
The death of convicted killer Joseph Wood attracted howls of outrage on Wednesday after the 55-year-old gasped and snorted for 117 minutes after being injected with a relatively untested lethal drug cocktail.
It was the third US execution this year to have lasted far beyond the more normal 10 minutes, as states struggle to adapt to a shortage of tried and tested drugs used to carry out lethal injections.
But amid a chorus of criticism, Arizona officials on Thursday denied Wood had suffered during his unusually lengthy execution.
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said in a statement media reports had "reached the premature and erroneous conclusion that this execution was 'botched'." "This is pure conjecture because there is no medical or forensic evidence to date that supports that conclusion," Ryan said.
Ryan said an investigation into the execution ordered by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer indicated Wood was comatose during the injection and had not suffered.
"The IV team, which includes a licensed medical doctor, verified multiple times during the procedure that the inmate was comatose and never in pain," Ryan said.
"The record clearly shows the inmate was fully and deeply sedated beginning at 1:57 PM - three minutes after the administration of the execution drugs - until he was declared deceased at 3:49 PM." An autopsy had found that the drugs had been injected directly into Wood's veins without leaking into his body, Ryan said. Injections which miss veins can often cause excruciating pain.
"The Medical Examiner reported to the department that in regards to the placement of the IVs, they were 'perfectly placed'," Ryan said.
"He further explained to the department that the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins and there was no leakage of any kind, and that anything that was put through the IVs went into the veins." Ryan said Arizona's Attorney General had put executions on hold until an investigation into Wood's death had been completed.
"We will ensure all the facts are gathered and that fact-based conclusions are reached regarding the length of time it took for the execution to be lawfully completed," he said.