TUCSON, Ariz. – U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.
The Republican who represents the conservative state told Politico that he supports capital punishment for certain crimes but felt Wednesday’s execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood was a “bollocks-upped situation.”
The execution brought new attention to the death penalty debate in the U.S. as opponents said it was proof that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.
Arizona lawmakers, however, say the debate is not likely to have an impact on practices in the state.
It took Wood nearly two hours to die after he received a lethal injection with a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.
He spent more than 90 minutes gasping for air every five to 12 seconds before he finally stopped breathing.
Arizona has suspended executions while an investigation is conducted.
In the interview with Politico published Thursday, McCain said people responsible should be held accountable in the execution of Wood.
“The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That’s torture,” the senator said.
Calls by The Associated Press seeking comment from McCain were not immediately returned on Friday.
Wood’s attorneys said the execution should have taken 10 minutes, and they called it a “horrifically botched execution.”
Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan has dismissed the contention that the execution was botched, calling it an “erroneous conclusion” and “pure conjecture.”
Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said he supports a review of the Wood execution but it’s not likely that state legislators will change their minds about the death penalty. Republicans control both chambers of the Arizona Legislature.
“Well I think they’re not going to be receptive to abolish it, no, but if there’s some methods that the Democrats want to offer that say, here’s a better way to go about this, we will consider that. But I don’t think there’s a real chance that there’s going to be an elimination of the death penalty,” Tobin said.
Tobin is campaigning around the state in his bid for a U.S. Congress seat.
Still, Democrats hope the Wood execution will at least spark conversation in the Legislature.
“I think the Legislature is going to have to look at this and determine what steps to take,” said DJ Quinlan, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party. “It warrants a serious adult discussion that hopefully will remove politics.”
Arizona Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, heads the judiciary committee and said he also does not think the Wood execution will change many minds about the death penalty.
But he said the state Legislature, which is not in session, may eventually have to consider the issue depending on what happens next at the Department of Corrections.
“I support the death penalty for crimes that rise to that level, but it must be carried out with all the due process that we cherish as Americans and it must be carried out as humanely as possible,” Murphy said.
No other Arizona inmates are scheduled to be executed. The state can technically obtain death warrants for five others, meaning those inmates have exhausted their appeals and the next step is being assigned an execution date.
Wood and two of those inmates, Graham Henry and David Gulbrandson, filed a lawsuit against the state challenging its secrecy over the drug combination used in lethal injections. The lawsuit is pending.
The execution of Wood was the third to go awry this year in the country.
An Ohio inmate gasped in similar fashion for nearly 30 minutes in January. An Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren’t being administered properly
In Oklahoma, the state appeals court agreed in May to a six-month stay of execution for a death row inmate while an investigation is conducted into the April 29 lethal injection of Clayton Lockett. The state has continued to schedule executions, and currently three are on the calendar later this year.