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Condemned man's US execution takes nearly two hours

File picture shows the state prison complex in Florence, Arizona
File picture shows the state prison complex in Florence, Arizona

A death row inmate being executed in Arizona took nearly two hours to die, prison officials said, in the latest controversy to hit America's lethal injection regime.

The attorney representing Joseph Wood, convicted in 1989 of the murders of his girlfriend and her father, said his client died an agonizing death after being injected with a cocktail of medications that were supposed to quietly snuff out his life.

"It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and forty minutes," attorney Dale Baich said after the execution in the southwestern US state.

Wood finally died at 3:49 pm local time (2249 GMT) -- almost two hours after officials began injecting him with drugs that should have taken his life in a matter of minutes, prison officials said.

Baich said in a statement that Wood had been injected with a mixture of two drugs -- midazolam combined with hydromorphone -- an experimental cocktail that badly failed.

- Execution was bungled: lawyer -

"Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror -- a bungled execution," the attorney wrote.

So drawn-out was the procedure to execute Wood that his attorneys had sufficient time while it was going on to write up and file a court motion seeking to interrupt it.

Capital punishment opponents said they were appalled by what they said was yet another shocking, "botched" US execution, and vowed to redouble their efforts to outlaw the practice, which already has been abandoned in most other countries.

"Tonight, we learned that yet another American has been put to death in a shocking and cruel way. But the worst part about Joseph Wood's botched execution was, it was entirely predictable and avoidable," said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"The combination of drugs used in putting Wood to death —- an agonizing, two hour ordeal -— has been used only once before, earlier this year in Ohio, resulting in another botched execution," she said.

"Americans have had enough of the barbarism. We're learning, sadly, that in too many cases, we are simply incapable of carrying out capital punishment in the humane way in which our laws guarantee."

Wood, 55, was sentenced to die for the 1989 shooting deaths of his 29-year-old former girlfriend Debbie Dietz and her father Gene, 55.

He had filed a court petition challenging his execution, in which he demanded to know more about the state's lethal injection method, the executioner's qualifications and the manufacturer of the lethal drugs.

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals had placed a hold on Wood's execution, demanding more information from Arizona.

The state's Governor Jan Brewer said she was concerned about the time it took for Wood to be executed, and ordered an investigation.

"While justice was carried out today, I directed the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of the process," Brewer said.

But she insisted that: "One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer. This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims – and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

- Supreme Court appeal failed -

Wood's final legal recourse, the US Supreme Court, on Tuesday refused to hear his appeal, clearing the way for officials in Arizona proceed with his execution.

He is one of several inmates to resort to the courts to seek greater transparency about the method being used to put them to death, amid concern about the efficacy of the lethal drug protocol, especially following a recent botched execution in Oklahoma which saw an inmate appear to suffer before he died.

Oklahoma suspended its executions for six months after the April death of convicted killer and rapist Clayton Lockett by lethal injection -- a process that took 43 minutes, far more than the expected time of about 10 minutes.

Individual US states may choose whether or not they will implement the death penalty.

Those that carry out executions have relied increasingly on compounding pharmacies, which lack federal approval, since European drugmakers refused to provide products used to execute inmates.

Wednesday's execution was the 26th in the United States, and the first in Arizona since October.