Ohio slowly executes man with agonizing experimental lethal injection that almost didn't work

Thursday, January 23, 2014 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: lethal injection, Ohio execution, convicted murderer

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(NaturalNews) A controversial Ohio execution on January 16 appeared to confirm all the worst fears of its critics; the condemned man gasped desperately for breath and took nearly half an hour to die.

The cocktail of drugs used in the execution, a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, had never before been tried in the United States.

The execution of Dennis McGuire was "a failed, agonizing experiment," his lawyer, Allen Bohnert, said.

"The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names."

"Humane" and "dignified"?

McGuire was sentenced to death in 1989 for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman. But in the week before his scheduled execution, his lawyers argued that the experimental lethal injection cocktail that state officials planned to use would place him at risk of "air hunger," leading to "agony and terror" as he fought for breath while dying.

Assistant Ohio Attorney General Thomas Madden dismissed these concerns, stating, "you're not entitled to a pain-free execution." U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost agreed, ordering the experimental execution to proceed. Ohio prison director Gary Mohr said that he expected McGuire to experience "a humane, dignified execution."

Instead, the 53-year-old McGuire lay motionless for approximately 5 minutes after the drugs began flowing, then gave a loud snort and began to gasp for the next 10 minutes. Normally, people executed by lethal injection move a little in the few minutes after the drugs begin flowing, then make no further sound or motion.

"Oh, my God," said the condemned man's daughter, Amber McGuire, as she watched.

McGuire was not pronounced dead until nearly 25 minutes after the drugs were first administered. This made his execution one of the longest since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1999.

Growing lethal injection controversy

A nationwide experiment into new lethal injection cocktails began in 2011, when the European Union banned drugmakers from selling sodium thiopental for use in executions. Since no U.S. companies make that drug, the country's execution rate actually declined from an average of 55 per year in the prior decade to just 43 in 2012 and 39 in 2013.

States have been searching for new drug combinations, but no consensus has emerged. A common alternative, pentobarbital (used to euthanize pets), can cause extreme pain if contaminated.

This may be what happened in the case of Oklahoma prisoner Michael Lee Wilson, who was executed a week before McGuire. Wilson complained that he was "burning" after being administered a cocktail containing pentobarbital.

"Two botched executions [in] the past two weeks certainly raises lots of concerns about whether they were carried out in a humane way,'' said Jennifer Moreno, of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California School of Law.

McGuire and Wilson's executions are sure to fuel an ongoing battle over lethal injection practices in Ohio and elsewhere. Death penalty opponents hope that these cases will lead the 32 states that still practice capital punishment to reconsider it altogether.

Indeed, Missouri lawmaker John Rizzo has already called for a moratorium on all executions in that state, pending an investigation into the drugs used in lethal injections there.

"What's happening is shocking," said Diann Rust-Tierney, director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "We're seeing the underside of the death penalty: irresponsible behavior by states and the realization that there's not a good way to kill people. This case and others are going to increase and galvanize those who oppose capital punishment and cause the public and policymakers to say, 'What are we doing?'"

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