Ohio's New Execution Cocktail Debuts With Questionable Results: UPDATE

  • McGuire
Robert Lowe, an attorney representing executed killer Dennis McGuire and his family, was back at work this week after being sidelined by accusations that he had coached McGuire to fake suffocation symptoms.

Prison guards reported that McGuire told them about Lowe's plan. According to records: "He wants me to put on this big show in front of my kids, all right when I'm dying!" McGuire is reported to have told a prison guard. "I ain't gonna do this. It's about me and my kids, not him and his cause!" (The cause being an alleged wish on Lowe's part to see to the death penalty nixed in Ohio.)

Originally published Jan. 16

Dennis McGuire was executed by the state of Ohio today, making him the first inmate in the country to die by a certain combination of lethal drugs. It didn't seem to go as planned.

McGuire's attorney called the execution "a failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.” That's because McGuire gasped and snorted audibly and took more than 15 minutes to die once the drugs were injected. Ohio is now using a combination of midazolam (sedative) and hydromorphone (painkiller), because the manufacturer of pentobarbital pulled the supply for execution purposes.

Now that the drugs have been used once, the two sides of this new argument are fleshing out their concerns. Here's the Akron Beacon Journal with the context:

“You’re not entitled to a pain-free execution,” [assistant Ohio attorney general] Thomas Madden told a federal judge.

The judge sided with the state but acknowledged the new method was an experiment. At the request of McGuire’s lawyers, Judge Gregory Frost ordered the state to photograph and then preserve the drugs’ packaging boxes and vials and the syringes used in the execution.

“The court’s concerns expressed earlier this week have been confirmed,” said [McGuire's attorney Allen] Bohnert, who did not witness the execution. “And more importantly, the people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names.”

McGuire had been sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of Joy Stewart, who was pregnant at the time. His journey from crime to sentence included all sorts of twists and turns, including an attempt to blame his brother-in-law.

But with today's execution in the books now, states have a better opportunity to assess this combination of drugs and debate their impact in capital punishment cases. Elisabeth A. Semel, clinic professor of law and director of the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, authored an opinion piece that tackles the secrecy and uncertainty surrounding the lethal injection process.

Arguments will continue to shake out in a number of ways across the country, but Semel does point out that the process ends up more arbitrary than perhaps it should be.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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