Joseph Rudolph Wood III began the end of his life on August 7, 1989, when he walked into an auto body shop and killed his 29 year-old ex-girlfriend Debbie Dietz, and her 55 year-old father Gene Dietz, with a .38 caliber revolver. Police shot Wood several times when he picked up and pointed the gun he had just laid down, but survived the wounds after extensive surgery.
Wood was sentenced to die on July 2, 1991, but the sentence which had taken just over 23 years to be carried out would be distinguished by the last two hours of that interval, because Joseph R. Wood was administered a lethal injection at 1:52 p.m., but was not pronounced dead until 3:49 p,m, Wednesday afternoon. The central issue being raised about this execution is the string of botched executions that seem to have been caused by the jazz flute improvisational nature of lethal injection drugs (an arc that has been followed and excruciatingly detailed by Rachel Maddow), but what’s truly disturbing about this execution is that the same society that has no problem with sending a man to his death gasping like an air-dried carp can’t allow itself to watch what is being done in its name.
Hence, viewers of The Rachel Maddow Show were instead treated to the accounts of reporters who witnessed the execution, like Michael Kiefer from The Arizona Republic, Mauricio Marin of KOLD-TV, and Troy Hayden of Fox 10 News:
While those descriptions are getting a lot of play, as our national media engages in the absurd debate over whether we’re being humane enough when we put people to death, very little attention is being paid to the voices of those who were touched by Joseph Wood’s crime, and who also witnessed his execution. At that same press conference, Debbie Deitz’s sister Jeanne Brown told reporters that Wood didn’t seem to suffer, and lashed out at the concern over Wood’s final hours:
“You don’t know what excruciating is. What is excruciating is seeing your dad lying there in a pool of blood, seeing your sister lying there in a pool of blood. That’s excruciating. This man deserved it. And I shouldn’t really call him a man. He deserved everything he had coming to him.”
“…He wasn’t suffering, he was sleeping.”
Jeaane Brown’s husband Richard, who was a witness to Wood’s crime, put an even finer point on it:
“You guys are blowing this all out of proportion about these drugs. This man conducted a horrifying murder. And you guys are going ‘Oh, let’s worry about the drug and how its effect. Why didn’t we give him a bullet? Why did we give him some Drano? Why did we give him something else?
“Everybody is worried about the drugs. These people that do this, that are on death row, they deserve to suffer a little bit. This guy has been here for 25 years getting medication, eating, roof, bed, clothes, shoes. Where are they at? Oh, that’s right. They’re dead. They have been dead for 25 years. How would you guys feel if it was one of your family members? Would you be talking about the drug, or would you be talking about your family member? I saw the life go out of my sister-in-law’s eyes right in front of me as he shot her to death.
“I’m so sick and tired of you guys blowing this drug stuff out of proportion, ‘cuz to me, that’s B.S. There’s a lot of other families and people who have, not ruined their lives, but had a hard time with this. All the witnesses that are there, friends of mine still, friends of the family, still. It’s not just about him. It’s about other people that suffered, that are still suffering. I have a 7-foot file cabinet over 25 years of stuff I’ve gotten back from whether it be through the media, whether it be through victim witness, whether it be from the attorneys, how they were worried about, and lately, about this drug.
“To me it looked like he was sleeping, he was snoring, that’s what I saw. And then he passed away, so how is that suffering? How do you guys call that suffering? Because it’s a new drug? Come on. You’re blowing this way out of proportion. It’s about the victims. It ain’t about the guy that went to sleep and never woke up. Now my family members can rest in peace. Does anybody look at that? No, we’re still worried about the drugs. It’s not about the drugs. It’s about the person that did what he did. He’s the one that pulled the trigger. We didn’t give him the drugs. The state gave him the drugs and he went to sleep, and that was it. He didn’t yell out ‘Hey, don’t do that, don’t do that,’ and ‘boom! boom!’ you’re dead. He didn’t yell that once. He smiled and laughed at us and then went to sleep. So all you people that think that these drugs are bad, well the hell with you guys. You guys need to look at the big picture.
Any questions, indeed.
I am 100% against the death penalty, but I agree with almost everything Richard Brown said here. If we, as a society, have decided that it is our right to mete out this sort of justice, then why do we give a good fuck if these people suffer? Why not give Joseph Wood a bullet, or Drano, or bullets dipped in Drano? If the death penalty is about giving murderers what they deserve, then these guys are getting off easy. What Richard Brown did here was to lay bare the high-minded notion that the death penalty is about justice, it is about a grossly insufficient measure of vengeance.If we have decided that we are so certain that these death row inmates deserve to die, then it is absurd to suggest that they don’t deserve to suffer in the process.
But justice isn’t supposed to be about what people deserve, it is supposed to be about what is right and what is wrong. Killing isn’t always wrong. Individually, we have established standards under which it is legal to kill someone, standards which, themselves, are subject to significant controversy. Those standards do not include the premeditated killing of a person, who poses no immediate threat, because that person deserves it. That kind of killing is wrong. What’s more, it is an irrevocable wrong, meted out to punish an irrevocable wrong. It is wrong when a person is guilty, but even more so when you consider that we are paying for our vengeance by also executing the innocent from time to time.
You can argue that Joseph Wood deserved his slow death, and that Jeanne and Richard Brown deserved their vengeance, but you cannot argue that we deserved it.