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Wood actually took 23 years, not two hours to die in Arizona

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POSTED July 26, 2014 12:24 a.m.

Do not get teary-eyed or enraged thinking about how Joseph R. Wood III died.

There is little doubt that it took Wood nearly two hours to die. Well, actually it took 23 years for Wood to die since he was convicted in Arizona on two counts of first-degree murder on July 2, 1991. Had that happened in California, a judge would have ruled the delay of his execution cruel and unusual punishment, although it would be the norm for a death penalty case in the Golden State.

But I digress, just like the proponents of the death penalty do who throw everything but the kitchen sink at efforts to make capital punishment go away.

Wood was out cold when he died. His victims, Debbie and Gene Dietz weren’t.

His lawyers spent the better part of two hours while Wood was dying by lethal injection arguing whether he was in pain while filing emergency injunctions presumably aimed at trying to revive him so he could live out the rest of his life in possibly a vegetative state on the taxpayer’s dime.

To understand what executioners do, they essentially give a killer a drug that knocks them out, much like an anesthesiologist gives anyone going under the knife. Then other drugs flow into the killer’s veins to kill him.

Supposedly, death penalty foes argue, Wood felt pain. While personally I’m more bothered by the fact his victims felt pain and had Wood acting as judge, jury and executioner without benefit of them having 23 years to appeal his ruling, I seriously doubt he felt any pain.

I’ve had two hernia surgeries. When I woke up in the recovery room, I do not recall having felt anything painful. In fact it wasn’t until hours later when the drugs wore off and I initially refused to take Vicodin that I felt any pain. Either the lawyers arguing Wood was in pain have never been knocked out for surgery or else they were trying to milk Wood’s two-hour exit into a poster execution to trigger emotional support to deep six the death penalty.

Let’s review not how Wood died but how 29-year-old Debbie Dietz died as well as her 55-year-old father Gene Dietz.

Debbie Dietz had escaped a five-year relationship as Wood’s girlfriend during which time Wood repeatedly abused her physically.

Wood on Aug. 7, 1989, walked into the Pima County auto body shop where Debbie Dietz worked as part of a family business. He was carrying a .38 caliber revolver.

He walked up to Gene Dietz and shot him once in the chest – killing him. Wood then grabbed Debbie Dietz, put her in a hold before shooting her first in the abdomen and then in the chest. He then fled the building.

It is important to note that Wood shot his ex-girlfriend not in such a manner that she wouldn’t experience some pain before her heart stopped beating, but that he shot her in the stomach which obviously would not kill her in seconds. Where were the lawyers and the moralists on Aug. 7, 1989, or is only the pain of a cold-blooded killer important in the American justice system?

It was clear that Wood didn’t enter the auto body shop to talk. Nor was it a heat of the moment type of thing. Nor could his defense attorneys prove mental defect, duress or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Wood went to the auto body shop with two purposes – to kill the man that got his daughter out of a physically abusive relationship and to kill his ex-girlfriend. That is premeditated murder.

And if Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, believes the words that he said in referencing the Arizona execution as “more evidence that the death penalty has become an embarrassing spectacle” then he might want to embrace the suggestion of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Alex Kozinski.

Kozinski suggests states opt for the “more primitive” but “foolproof” firing squad to execute death row inmates.

Kozinski dismisses lethal injections for being a “misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful.”

The judge noted that “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 the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

Based on the overwhelming majority of referendums society wants the death penalty for those who savagely, ruthlessly and without hesitation take the lives of others.

So let’s make it clear how we got to lethal injections. It wasn’t because the state per se wanted to make the executions seem more serene. It is because those who want to stop the death penalty from being carried out have for decades had carte blanche ability in appeals to try to do anything to derail the ultimate sentence. Those appeals often have nothing to do with the facts of the case or the laws under which the death sentence conviction was obtained. 

It is how California got to the point this month of having a judge rule that the delays in executing a death row inmate has made capital punishment cruel and unusual punishment

If that is the case, then maybe the courts should do something about it and bar death penalty appeals not narrowly focused on evidence, the trial, and the law.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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