25 July 2014

Botched AZ Execution?

By Dixon Hill

When I picked up the Arizona Republic newspaper at Circle K, at four Thursday morning, the headline screamed: "Botched Execution!" in bold caps.

Later, online, I saw that news of what transpired in the death chamber, here in my home state, had been broadcast on national morning news programs.

But, what really happened?  Different media outlets seemed to cover different parts of the story. Some observers claimed that Joseph Wood spent the last hour, or more, of his life, after being injected with a lethal concoction, gasping and struggling for breath, while others claimed he was merely snoring, evidently sleeping away the last hour or so of his life in no pain.

Lack of sound, to go with the video picture being watched by some witnesses, is evidently at least partly to blame for this disagreement.

One positive note (depending on how you view executions, that is):  It seems everybody agrees that he wasn't clenching his fists in pain, the way a recently condemned prisoner in another state was, when it took him a long time to die from lethal injection.

What's your take on it?

I thought, since it was my turn to blog, and I live in the state where this happened, and SS is about crime and punishment, as well as detection and writing, a discussion of this situation might just fit for today.  There are links below for those who want more information.

You can click HEREto read the Arizona Republic coverage of this story, which includes an explanation of how the state withheld certain information concerning the execution from the prisoner, as well as interesting information concerning exactly what got Joseph Wood put on death row.  There is a local news television coverage here also, because the Republic is associated with the TV station in question.

If you click HERE you'll be taken to an excellent article in the L.A. Times about a Federal Appeals Court judge who suggests executions should now be conducted via firing squad -- and even in more surprising manners.  His reasoning might strike a chord with you . . . believe it, or not!

The condemned man was not the only person to pass away, this week, however.

I'd like to take a moment to say goodbye to a man I never met, named James Scott Bumgarner.

You probably know him by the name he legally adopted later in life: James Garner.  While Jim Rockford will continue to live on in The Rockford Files and Maverick reruns, I can't help mourning the loss of an actor who could portray such a person so well, I felt as if I knew him.

Wallace on left; Ladmo on right.
Also:  Beneath the fold, on Thursday's front page, I found an article about the passing of another good man.

Bill Thompson, who played Wallace on the long-running local "Wallace and Ladmo Show" for kids, had died on Wednesday (from old age, of course, not of lethal injection).

Ladmo died some years back, so now -- for those who know the characters -- only evil Gerald is left.

Damn it, Jim!  I'm going to miss both you guys!  And I never even really knew either of you.

 See you in two weeks,


  1. Since you asked, my friend…

    >“Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moments. But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”
    —Ninth Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski commenting on the case

    The judge is far more articulate than I am, although our conclusions differ. As Dixon and some of you from our Criminal Brief days know, I’m strongly opposed to capital punishment in this, one of the most punitive places on the planet.

    It’s not a political thing, not with me anyway, not conservative or liberal or libertarian. It’s moral. My Dad’s side of the family was Quaker, but that merely provided a window of contemplation. Several weeks immersion in a school debate project forged my personal views. The research indicated much so-called common knowledge is false: Capital punishment is not moral, it’s not ethical, it’s not ‘closure’ as so many think, it’s not cost effective, and it isn’t fair.

    Once done, you can’t take it back. In states like Florida that so often put the wrong man on death row, only a damn fool would trust the system, especially after 1990s-era federal legislation to cut off means of appeals, even in cases of ‘actual innocence’ (legal term denoting proof of innocence, which may not be enough to save the accused).

    So do I want a murderer to live? That’s a non sequitur. I simply don’t want anyone to kill another in my name. Or my country’s name. To use the words of another great Arizonian, John Mccain, I think we’re better than that.

    Opinions of course differ. Kindly don’t let my thoughts distract you from Dixon’s article.

  2. As always, Leigh and I disagree on this one. Morality and legalities can be argued forever, but I can only attest to what I believe. I, personally, believe in capital punishment when guilt is proven. The problem is that, as shown in Leigh's recent blogs, "proof" even by DNA is not necessarily true. Theoretically,I believe that if we kill someone for murder, their execution should be the same manner in which they ended the life of their victim. I know this is going to irritate, even anger, some of our SS writers, but I'm leaving it here.
    Moving on to something more pleasant--James Garner, not his death, but his life. I had the great fortune to be introduced to him the first time I went to New York which was when I was fifteen. He was charming and pleasant and even more handsome in person than on the screen. For years, boys and then men who resembled Garner were my ideal. I regret his death, but I think it's wonderful in today's society that someone like him existed--a talented performer and also a good person. As so many have said, RIP Mr. Garner.

  3. Fran has had a personal experience every one of us should never hope to encounter. Fran's opinion can't anger any SleuthSayer, least of all me with our shared reasons.

  4. I'm staying out of the capital punishment argument, because I'm still wrestling with it myself. (Hint: There are some people I want dead, and some people I feel guilty about wanting dead.)

    James Garner - I'll be honest, I didn't care for Maverick much, but I loved him when he was paired with Julie Andrews, especially in "Victor/Victoria", which I might have to watch tonight in tribute.
    "I don't care if you are a man."
    "I'm not a man"
    "I still don't care."
    Big kiss. Ahhh....

  5. I'm with Eve on the subject of capital punishment. My head and my gut are still wrestling with each other on the subject. So I will leave it alone.

    As for James Garner, he was good no matter what he did--even Polaroid commercials. One of my favorite Garner movies is "Support You Local Sheriff". He even made Bruce Dern look good in that one. A very talented guy.

  6. The husband & I had a long discussion about capital punishment a few nights ago. Actually we stayed up until 5:00 a.m. talking about it. He's in favor of it only when guilt is established beyond the shadow of a doubt.

    I'm not always in favor of it, nor always opposed. In my lifetime I've known three people who killed someone. Two of these served their time & are free, one is serving a life sentence.

    The son of a dear friend was killed in a road rage incident in 1999 when he was 27. The perp was convicted of manslaughter & served nine years. Another friend threatened to go after the perp & kill him, but was talked out of it. Although I myself would go & kill the perp, if it would bring my friend's son back.

    Good column Dixon, and I have jury duty next week ...

  7. Hi, everybody. I apologize for not being available to comment until now.

    Leigh, I had a feeling you’d like Kozinski’s statements!

    Fran, I’m constantly in awe of the wonderful people you’ve met through your life in music, etc. And I suspect it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

    Eve, your hint had me rolling.

    Herschel, I’m glad you mentioned those Polaroid commercials. My understanding is that many viewers thought he was actually married to Mariette Hartley, due to the chemistry they had in those ads.

    Glad you liked the column,Elizabeth. Hope you get a best seller out of that stint of jury duty.



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