Jeanne Brown sat in the front row. She wanted to watch this man die, up close. She wanted to look him in the eyes.
Brown, 44, waited 25 years for the execution of Joseph R. Wood III, who in 1989 fatally shot her sister and father in a Tucson, Ariz., body shop. On Wednesday, at 1:50 p.m., she listened to his last words in an Arizona prison: "May God forgive you all." She swore she saw him laugh. She felt her heart pound.
Nearly two hours later, 55-year-old Wood still clung to life.
Lethal injections are supposed to end quickly. Wood's punishment is now considered the country's third prolonged execution this year. In January, an Ohio inmate took 26 minutes to die, gasping and snorting. In April, an Oklahoma inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials administered drugs.
Wood's execution lasted so long that his lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal while it was ongoing. The courts learned of his death during the discussions.
"He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour," Wood's lawyers wrote in a legal filing demanding that the courts stop it. "He is still alive."
In a call with Judge Neil V. Wake, the participants discussed Wood's brain activity, heart rate and whether he was feeling pain. They talked about whether it would do any good to stop the execution while it was so far along.
Jeffrey A. Zick, a lawyer for the state, spoke to the Arizona Department of Corrections director on the phone and was given assurances from medical staff at the prison that Wood was not in any pain. Zick also said the governor's office was notified.
"The director indicated that in consultation with the IV team leader, who is a medical doctor, Mr. Wood is apparently comatose; that he cannot change course at this point," Zick told the judge.
Zick said that at one point a second dose of drugs was given, but he did not provide specifics.
Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m. Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said. An Associated Press reporter said he gasped 600 times. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a review of the execution. A spokesman for the Arizona attorney general, however, said Wood wasn't gasping or snorting — he was snoring.
Brown didn't think about that Wednesday as she witnessed the execution. Flanked by her husband and younger sister, she kept her eyes on Wood. "I kept wondering, 'What's happening?' He was snoring. That was it. He was just snoring."
Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing Debra Dietz, his longtime girlfriend, and her father, Eugene, who disapproved of the relationship. In 1989, Wood walked into the body shop where they worked and shot Eugene in the chest. He shot Debra twice, Brown said, as she begged for her life.
Brown's husband, Richard, who worked the body shop, hid under a car and saw it happen. Wednesday, he sat beside her at the prison, holding her hand.
They thought of the day that fueled 25 years of nightmares.
Brown was almost 19, at home with her 1-year-old daughter, when a police officer knocked on the door and said, "You need to come with me."
She learned Wood's execution date three months ago and took a couple of days off her work at a body shop in Tucson.
"I had to go see Joe die and get right back to normal," she said. "I wasn't going to cry. I was there for closure, not to give him any more of my time."
Brown was not concerned about the length or nature of Wood's death. "He gave his life up when he killed my sister and my dad 25 years ago. The real pain is losing your sister. Losing your father."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.vw