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January 16, 2014

Ohio completes execution using novel two-drug lethal injection protocol... UPDATED with media reports of problems

As reported in this new local article, headlined "Dennis McGuire executed using new 2-drug combination," the great state of Ohio has yet again pioneered and used a brand new execution protocol. Here are the details:

Dennis McGuire and his attorneys wanted his death to be pain-free. His lethal injection at 10:53 a.m. today appeared to be relatively calm and free of the panic and agony that McGuire’s attorneys feared would occur from the combination of drugs used together for the first time in a U.S. execution.

McGuire’s quiet, almost surreal death in a small, windowless room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility stood in bleak contrast to the violent, terrifying death suffered by his victim, Joy Stewart.

Stewart, 22, of West Alexandria, a small town about 20 miles west of Dayton, was about 30-weeks pregnant when McGuire raped her, choked her, and slashed her throat so deeply it severed both her carotid artery and jugular vein. At the same point, her unborn child died, too, probably in the woods in the rural area of Preble County where her body was found the next day by two hikers.

McGuire, 53, died from an injection of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. The combination, never before used in a U.S. execution, was chosen by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction because pentobarbital, the single drug previously used, is no longer available. McGuire's attorneys argued unsuccessfully that the drugs could cause him to struggle for breath though something known as “air hunger,” and die painfully, a violation of a U.S. constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Dennis McGuire's adult children, Amber and Dennis, along with Dennis’ wife, were among those who watched his execution. The inmate had a tearful visit with his children Carol Avery, the victim’s sister, also witnessed.

The execution had an unusually large media contingent on hand; in recent years, the media had dwindled away as executions became almost routine since Ohio re-instated in the death penalty in 1999. Outside, a handful of anti-death penalty protestors demonstrated as temperatures remain in the low 20s even after sunrise this morning.

UPDATE:  Intriguingly, I have now seen that this CNN report on today's Ohio execution starts with this very different account of how it went:

Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire appeared to gasp and convulse for roughly 10 minutes before he finally died Thursday during his execution by lethal injection using a new combination of drugs, reporters who witnessed it said.

And the article I linked above from my own Columbus Dispatch as of 2:40pm now carries a much different headline and lead:

Killer struggles, gasps repeatedly under new 2-drug combination

Dennis McGuire struggled, repeatedly gasping loudly for air and making snorting and choking sounds, before succumbing to a new two-drug execution method today.

The 24-minute execution process was a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio,” said one of the killer’s attorneys, Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender. “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what was done in their name.”

McGuire’s death by lethal injection at 10:53 a.m. may have been marked by the “air hunger” that McGuire’s attorneys feared would occur from the combination of drugs used for the first time in a U.S. execution.

“What we suggested to the court did happen,” said Bohnert, who refused to speculate on whether McGuire suffered. He also would not say whether further legal action would be pursued under the U.S. constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

January 16, 2014 at 11:18 AM | Permalink


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Lets have the truth about this appalling travesty of an "humane" killing -

" McGuire appeared to gasp several times during the more than 15 minutes it appeared to take him to die. It was one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Prior to the execution, McGuire's lawyers warned that he was at substantial risk of a medical phenomenon known as air hunger, which would cause him to experience terror as he strained to catch his breath." Reported on UK Sky News, the original report coming from the Sky News US team.

Posted by: Peter | Jan 16, 2014 11:41:16 AM

I don't know if the article you quote in your post was an early draft before they got the full story from inside the prison, or what. But the link that you provide is now showing a very different story from a Dispatch reporter who was apparently present at the execution. The lead (lede?) is now: "Dennis McGuire struggled, repeatedly gasping loudly for air and making snorting and choking sounds, before succumbing to a new two-drug execution method today", and it goes on in a similar vein.

Doesn't sound like the kind of pioneering experiment the State should be proud of. Doug, you are local there -- maybe you can get the inside scoop on how the paper appears to have released one version of the story and then within a couple of hours revised it so substantially (with no mention at the URL that the article has been subject to any correction or revision). I will also be interested in your take on what actually appears to have transpired here, and what it says about the risks involved in this kind of DOC innovation.

Posted by: anon | Jan 16, 2014 2:03:45 PM

This is really getting ridiculous. Stop screwing around with the drugs--at best it creates a litigious nightmare, at worst it leads to a lingering death.

Go by firing squad or long-drop hanging. Cheap, effective, and repeatedly upheld as constitutional. Or do a nitrogen chamber...novel method of execution, but decades of suicide bag use proves it's painless.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 16, 2014 2:05:28 PM

" == Dennis McGuire and his attorneys wanted his death to be pain-free.== "

Who has made it so hard to come by the needed drugs such as pentobarbital?

BTW: His victim still suffered more, and undeservedly so.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 16, 2014 3:23:16 PM

Apparently the /appearance/ of his gasping and writhing is absolutely nothing compared the to the /actuality/ of the gasping and writhing by death penalty opponents. He's dead and they continue to suffer.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 16, 2014 3:48:04 PM

If you live in that state (Ohio) then this killing was done in your name. The People of The Great State of Ohio. This summer I hear them coming. They are probably on their way. They are gonna get down to it. Nuthing is holding them down. Not lawyers, drugs or money. It is 2014 and Y'all can.
Doug: are you a citizen of Ohio?

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 17, 2014 8:33:38 AM

Yes, Liberty, I am a citizen of Ohio. And the challenges and enormous expenses of finding a sound way to carry out a lawful sentence never ceases to amaze and frustrate me. I wonder if the People of The Great State of Ohio might consider a return to a firing squad approach.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 17, 2014 8:45:45 AM


Posted by: anon | Jan 17, 2014 9:42:38 AM

Wikipedia informs me that 'returning' in Ohio would mean electrocution and then hanging. As to the firing squad, doesn't seem like the people or the government as a whole wants the firing squad. I have read though some experts (including those sympathetic to ending the death penalty) think it would be better for the prisoner than lethal injection. Seems to be mostly hypothetical realistically.


Posted by: Joe | Jan 17, 2014 11:38:29 AM

“I should be glad to abolish both [public executions and capital punishment] if I knew what to do with the Savages of civilization.
As I do not, I would rid Society of them, when they shed blood, in a very solemn manner but would bar out the present audience” (Slater, 249)

["Though [Charles] Dickens argued against capital punishment in 1846,
he later changed his mind".]
-- https://suite101.com/a/charles-dickens-and-capital-punishment-a354765

Dickensian indeed.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 17, 2014 12:42:20 PM

Adamakis --

I envy your research abilities.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 18, 2014 3:07:13 AM

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