Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Federal public defender Allen Bohnert talks about the execution of his client, death row inmate Dennis McGuire, by a never-tried lethal drug process, on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. After McGuire repeatedly gasped over several minutes before dying, Bohnert called the procedure "a failed agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.” (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)
Ohio executions face criticism after unusual death
First Published Jan 17 2014 08:06 am • Last Updated Jan 17 2014 09:32 pm

Columbus, Ohio • The long and fitful execution of an Ohio inmate with an untested combination of chemicals brought cries of cruel and unusual punishment Friday and could further narrow the options for other states that are casting about for new lethal injection drugs.

A gasping, snorting Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die after the chemicals began flowing Thursday — the longest execution of the 53 carried out in Ohio since capital punishment resumed 15 years ago, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

McGuire’s adult children complained it amounted to torture, with the convicted killer’s son, also named Dennis, saying: "Nobody deserves to go through that."

Whether McGuire felt any pain was unclear. But Ohio’s experience could influence the decisions made in the 31 other lethal-injection states, many of which have been forced in the past few years to rethink the drugs they use.

States are in a bind for two main reasons: European companies have cut off supplies of certain execution drugs because of opposition to capital punishment in Europe. And states can’t simply switch to other chemicals without triggering legal challenges from defense attorneys.

"There’s only so many times you can say we’re going to try a new method, or try something different, where at this point it’s just going to invite a lot of skepticism," said Fordham University law professor and lethal injection expert Deborah Denno.

She added: "There’s a dead-end we’ve never seen before with lethal injection."

In light of what happened in Ohio, "states will now have more of a burden to show that they are using a well-thought-out best practice," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

Ohio’s prison system is reviewing McGuire’s execution and declined to comment on the amount of time it took him to die from the two-drug combination, which had never been used before in a U.S. execution. McGuire, 53, was given both a sedative and a painkiller.

Most Ohio inmates executed since 1999 took 15 minutes or less to die, records show. In years when Ohio used a three-drug combination, many inmates died in less than 10 minutes, according to the records.


story continues below
story continues below

McGuire, who was sentenced to die for raping and stabbing to death a pregnant newlywed in 1989, appeared unconscious but gasped repeatedly as he lay on a gurney, his stomach rising and falling and his mouth opening and shutting.

States have been hit with a series of setbacks as they attempt to refine lethal injection, with one problem cropping up as soon as another appears solved.

To end constitutional challenges over the possibility of an inmate suffering undue pain from the widely used three-drug method, states beginning with Ohio switched to single doses of a powerful sedative, sodium thiopental. Even opponents agreed that wouldn’t cause pain.

Then sodium thiopental was placed off limits when Illinois-based manufacturer Hospira said it couldn’t promise authorities in Italy, where the drug was to be produced, that it wouldn’t be used in executions.

The next choice, pentobarbital, experienced a similar fate when its Danish maker also prohibited its use in executions, and a U.S. company that inherited the drug agreed to continue the restriction.

Missouri at one point proposed using propofol, the powerful operating room anesthetic infamous for its role in Michael Jackson’s overdose death.

But Missouri’s governor backed off for fear the European Union, which opposes the death penalty, would cut off exports to the U.S. and cause a nationwide shortage of propofol.

Companies in India and Israel put similar prohibitions on their drugs.

What happened in Ohio "was precipitated in a large degree by our European allies who made sure that some of the drugs that Ohio wanted to use weren’t available," Dieter said. "They put a line in the sand that this is not where they want their companies to be selling for executions. So this brings up sort of an international dimension to this."

As a result of all this, states will be under a lot of pressure to find new sources of pentobarbital, Dieter said.

One of those sources could be compounding pharmacies, which turn out custom-made batches of drugs.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.