WASHINGTON – A federal court Monday denied the appeal of an Arizona death-row inmate who was convicted of killing his former girlfriend and her father at the family’s Tucson business in 1989.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that rejected Joseph Rudolph Wood‘s many claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective defense counsel in his trial for the killings of Debra and Eugene Dietz.
According to court documents, Wood and Debra Dietz had been in an abusive five-year relationship that at times left her with bruises and other signs of abuse. Eugene “generally disapproved” of the relationship but he did not actively interfere, the documents said, and Wood was even invited to family functions over the course of his relationship with Debra.
But on June 30, 1989, the couple’s fighting led a neighbor to call the police, and a few days later Debra moved out of the apartment she shared with Wood and moved in with her parents.
Wood reacted by trashing the apartment and leaving messages on her answering machine.
“Debbie, I’m sorry I have to do this. I hope someday somebody will understand when we’re not around no more,” Wood said in one message. “I do love you babe. I’m going to take you with me.”
She got a protective order but Wood “repeatedly tried to contact Debra at the shop, at her parents’ home and her apartment,” over the next few weeks, the opinion said.
On the morning of Aug. 7, 1989, Wood called the Dietzes’ auto body shop to ask if Eugene and Debra were there. A short time later, he showed up and walked into the office and waited for Eugene to get off the phone, at which point Wood drew a revolver and shot Dietz in the chest from a few feet away, “and then smiled.”
He was wrestled away by Eugene’s 70-year-old brother and then went in search of Debra, who was trying to call for help. He grabbed her from behind and pointed the gun at her chest, the court ruling said.
“I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you,” he was quoted as saying before shooting her twice in the chest.
Wood, now 53, conceded to both killings, but has insisted that they were not premeditated. But the appellate court decision Monday said “considerable evidence of his premeditation was introduced at trial.”
Wood’s attorneys could not be reached for comment on the ruling Monday.
Assistant Arizona Attorney General Kent Cattani, who argued the case before the appeals court, welcomed the ruling.
“When you go over with a gun and you take … ammunition and you make calls ahead of time … it’s difficult to make a compelling argument that it was anything than a premeditated murder,” Cattani said.
While Wood has been on death row for more than two decades, Cattani said he still has avenues of appeal he can pursue.
“We’re at least a year away from having an execution date” for Wood, he said.
There are 124 inmates on death row in Arizona, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections website.