Ohio’s Lethal-Injection Experiment

The state plans an untested execution method as drug supplies become limited

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Dennis McGuire
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction / AP

Dennis McGuire

Updated: Jan. 16, 12:55 p.m.

Ohio executed condemned inmate Dennis McGuire on Thursday with a controversial two-drug method of lethal injection never used before in the U.S. It’s unlikely to be the last.

According to the Associated Press, McGuire appeared to gasp several times and made snorting or snoring sounds during the execution. The AP reports it took McGuire 15 minutes to die, one of the longest executions for the state in over a decade.

As states struggle to replace sodium thiopental, a drug widely used in lethal injections for years, many are turning to untried combinations. The first four executions scheduled this year, each in four different states, are utilizing a different combination of lethal-injection drugs that are largely untested.

“In the old three-drug combination, each drug was being used for what it was designed for,” says Dr. Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at the Ohio State University who studies lethal injections. “But Ohio is taking drugs that are normally used for things like a colonoscopy, and they’re giving massive overdoses to kill people. They’re using them for their toxic side effects.”

Lawyers for McGuire, who was sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of Joy Stewart, argued that the method of lethal injection planned by the state was unconstitutional because of the risk that McGuire would be conscious as he suffocates to death. Allen Bohnert, one of McGuire’s attorneys, said prior to his execution that he believed McGuire would ” be aware of that terror and sensation of suffocating for around five minutes, from the time the drugs start to flow.” McGuire, who reported sleep-apnea-like complications, may also have been vulnerable to problems more than others on death row. Officials  disagreed. Last week, a federal judge denied McGuire’s plea for a stay of execution, and Ohio Governor John Kasich denied a clemency request.

(MORE: Oklahoma Convict Who Felt ‘Body Burning’ Executed With Controversial Drug)

For years, most states have used a standard three-drug combination in lethal injections: a barbiturate or anesthetic (either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent (pancuronium bromide) and a drug to stop the heart (potassium chloride).

But those drugs are becoming harder for states to obtain. In 2011, Hospira announced it would stop manufacturing sodium thiopental, which was used by almost all of the 35 states that had the death penalty. (There are currently 32 states that have capital punishment.) As the supply dried up, states looked for alternatives, notably in Europe. But those pharmaceutical companies soon refused to sell drugs to U.S. states that planned to use them for lethal injections.

The latest strategy for states scrambling to find usable lethal-injection drugs is to rely on largely unregulated compounding pharmacies. In 2012, a meningitis outbreak in Massachusetts that killed 64 people and sickened 750 was linked to the New England Compounding Center. That incident led Congress to enact a law in 2013 that allowed larger compounding pharmacies to voluntarily register with the Food and Drug Administration. But many smaller pharmacies are likely to remain under the federal radar.

These supply difficulties have led states to tinker with their lethal-injection methods. In Florida, a three-drug combination using midazolam hydrochloride — a sedative used as the first drug — was administered on Jan. 7 to execute Askari Muhammad. In Oklahoma, a three-drug combo utilizing pentobarbital was used to kill Michael Wilson. But in Ohio, the state administered a two-drug method never used before — midazolam and hydromorphone — that was initially designed as a backup plan to its previously used one-drug protocol: pentobarbital. It’s likely that the state can no longer obtain that drug, according to Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Dr. Groner says he’s unaware of any testing on midazolam, a Valium-like sedative, and hydromorphone, which was used to stop McGuire’s breathing. There’s also the possibility that complications arose from the drugs’ likely manufacture at a compounding pharmacy. Ohio announced last year it would begin obtaining drugs from those pharmacies.

(MORE: The Hidden Hand Squeezing Texas’ Supply of Execution Drugs)

“If it’s 75% pure or mislabeled or partially expired, it’s the anesthesiologist’s worst dream,” Dieter says. “And it’s being applied not by anesthesiologists but by prison guards. Experiment is kind of an electrifying word, but I think that’s what this is.”

So far, judges have been unsympathetic to the claims that the current, untested era of lethal injections violates the Eighth Amendment barring cruel and unusual punishment. Bohnert, McGuire’s lawyer, says he thinks it’s going to take an execution to go bad in a very public, visible way for anything to change.

“From what I have been told, at least as to using the two-drug method here in Ohio, it’s not a question of if, it’s just simply a question of which inmate,” Bohnert says.

This post has been updated to reflect McGuire’s execution Thursday morning.

62 comments
dudleysharp
dudleysharp

Dennis McGuire anally raped/tortured/murdered Joy Stewart, a 22 year old newlywed who was 30 weeks pregnant.

There is no indication that McGuire was conscious at any time after the first 30 seconds of the 24 minute execution process, as pharmacological realities dictate.

There is every indication that Joy Stewart was conscious throughout the eternal horror of her savage rape and murder. McGuire forced Joy from her car, choked her, attempted to rape her vaginally, raped her anally, slashed her throat so deeply it severed both her carotid artery and jugular vein, all the while Joy realizing the horror of her own death, as well as that of her unborn child.


McGuire had more time on death row than Joy had in life.

McGuire's children have threatened to sue the state over their father's just execution.  So foul. They have learned so very little.

Their only comments should have been:

"We are truly sorry for the horror and suffering that our father has caused to Joy, her unborn child and to Joy's family and friends.  Our thoughts and prayers will be with them, always."

Do folks gasp, wheeze, moan, etc. while in their sleep? Of course, which is all that happened with McGuire.

Possibly, someone in the media will look up the overdose properties of the drugs involved and tell us how McGuire could, possibly, have been conscious. He couldn't have been.

The properties of the drugs and their overdosing effects are very well known - by no means an experiment.

charlybarly1
charlybarly1

His lawyer and the media have blown this way out of proportion.  He did not suffer at all.  They used 2 drugs, 1 was Versed an anti anxiety and amnestic drug, the other was hydromorphone (Dilaudid) a strong narcotic pain medicine.  Both are strong respiratory depressants. The gasping that he did was simply airway obstruction. These 2 drugs are used thousands of times a day by anesthesiologists. The only difference is that anesthesiologists have ways to relieve the airway obstruction or they simply put people on a ventilator until it is time to wake them up.  Lethal injection does not have to be complicated. They could consult any anesthesiologist and it could be easily and painlessly done. Often during surgery the anesthesiologist will also give a drug like pancuronium which temporarily paralyzes the patient for about 30 minutes while the ventilator breathes for them. For lethal injection all they would have to do is give Versed first which induces amnesia, followed by the hydromorphone and pancuronium.  The person would stop breathing within a minute and be dead a few minutes later with no pain or suffering whatsoever. The only difference with the Ohio case was they did not give anything to stop the breathing immediately so it took longer.  Had they put him on a ventilator and then woke him up in an hour he would not remember gasping or remember that anything was done to him at all, same as anesthesia.

GregoryA.Peterson
GregoryA.Peterson

.50 caliber round to the forehead is quick and from all appearances offers minimal suffering....

KelleyWentworthZehender
KelleyWentworthZehender

Seriously, who cares if he suffered?? We could save a lot of money and hassle if we'd go back to the good old firing squad...bullets are cheap

ViableOp
ViableOp

One would have to wonder if the Evangelicals among us don't think that God is trying to tell us something when no one will sell us the drugs needed to kill humans?

spookiewriter
spookiewriter

On the one hand it's a little scary that death row inmates have been exonerated. This means that we have executed innocent people. It seems that prosecutors and judges need to be less concerned with a conviction rate and their own ego's and blow open the rules that make it extremely difficult for a convicted person to present new or changing evidence. 


On the other hand, I'm not going to get choked up if some monster suffers a little when they are executed. It just sucks that many of these walking piles of crap enter the death chamber as folk heroes after millions have been spent and the crime happened decades ago.


Personally I'm against the death penalty. Not because of any human rights issues, but because it costs millions of dollars to get through the process and the bad guys become stars. I love super-max prisons. A recent report says that many of the inmates in these facilities become mentally ill due to isolation. They also simply fade from public view and are forgotten instead of becoming celebrities.

kensan1000
kensan1000

Veterinarians have been euthanizing animals, humanely, for decades. What is the problem with using the same method on executions ?

cannibalofthetrees
cannibalofthetrees

Eye for an eye was replaced by your Christ. Or, do you only remember that when it's convenient?

Murder is murder. The guard should now be put to death too if we follow the idiotic logic of death penalty supporters...and the judge and the jury should be locked up forever for conspiring to commit murder.

JohnnyPappas
JohnnyPappas

This guy raped and murdered a woman who was 8 months pregnant.  This is exactly the type of crime the death penalty should be for.  Who cares if he suffers

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

It is noteworthy that the imposition of the death penalty is racially discriminatory – 77 per cent of death penalty cases involve crimes against white victims, while African Americans make up half of all homicide victims. Moreover, even though they represent 13 per cent of the population of the country, they make up 42 per cent of those sentenced to death (and 35 per cent of all executions). Since the death penalty was restored in the USA in 1976, 255 African Americans having killed white victims have been executed, with only 18 white persons having been executed for killing African Americans[1]. The results of the recent study show that in Louisiana the odds of a death sentence are 97 per cent higher for those whose victim is white than for those whose victim is an African American 

DanBruce
DanBruce

The whole debate about drugs is unnecessary. As I suggested in response to another article, why not place a person condemned to death in a small air-tight room, strap them into a chair, lock the door, and let the condemned person execute himself or herself by breathing until the carbon dioxide level in the air-tight room becomes lethal. The condemned person essentially passes out well before death and then dies while unconscious. There is no pain, no cost for drugs and exotic execution paraphernalia, and no person in the penal system has to push a button or anything to bring about the execution. It is a humane and just way to carry out an execution, which society has a right (and I believe a responsibility) to do once it has fairly determined that a person is no longer fit to live in society, even if incarcerated, because of his or her dangerous anti-social behavior. 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The death penalty violates the human right to life.

In Russia there is a moratorium on executions since 1993.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@charlybarly1  

in March 2011 Ohio became the first state where a death sentence was carried out with the substance that had been used by veterinarians for putting animals to sleep. 

GregoryA.Peterson
GregoryA.Peterson

expense is minimal, repeat offenders are non-existent, suffering seems to be minimal and appeals are unnecessary...one appeal trial, and if you lose that appeal....off to the shooting range or village square...I also believe that public executions would be a far more effective crime deterrent than the  empty threat of death by lethal injection given the fact that way too many of these executions take WAY TOO LONG to carry out one should never be on death row for more than a couple of weeks....

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

@ViableOp  Maybe god is askign us to go back to stoning them to death for eating meat on Fridays.  Did you actually bother to READ the bible?

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

@cannibalofthetrees And you should be stoned for eating meat on Fridays. Man! How many jesus freaks do I get to say that to today? Let's count.


DavidBell
DavidBell

@JohnnyPappas I presume that Joy Stewart was conscious while she was being kidnapped, raped and stabbed to death by Mr. McGuire.   Hard to have any sympathy for the guy who did that when his time comes to die.

HeatherSharp
HeatherSharp

@Sibir_Russia - Blacks commit the vast amount of violent crimes, and those crimes are heavily against whites. It just shows that blacks are very racist.

PosterityEvony
PosterityEvony

@Sibir_Russia guess the conclusion would be for blacks to be on extra good behavior then.  And by the way, the term African Americans is kinda dumb wouldn't you say.  Ya see, here's an example, Charlize Theron is from Africa and now a US citizen so would she be an African American, or how about Dave Matthew from the Dave Matthews band.  He is about as white as they come, but is from the continent of Africa, so is he an African American?  See the problem with that term is simple.  You make it standard that black people are from Africa when they could be from Trinidad, Jamaica, or many other places but Africa,.  Is Will Smith, African American, because I do believe he is from Philly which is a few thousand miles from the plains of Africa.  If you are going to call Caucasians, White, then what is so wrong with calling a black person, black.  Cause White people are more peach colored anyways.  

zingbat
zingbat

@DanBruce Actually... carbon dioxide asphyxia is incredibly painful and stressful. When CO2 builds up in your blood it triggers the same reflexes and urges as when you're drowning. What you want to use, if you care about being humane, is pure nitrogen and/or low pressure. That'll just make you go light-headed, pass out, and not wake up. Why we're not doing this already is beyond me. It's cheaper than any of the other methods that were popular in the last 100 years, it's guaranteed to be painless, and it's far easier to administer.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@DanBruce  

At the beginning of August 2012 the Inter American Commission on Human Rights called on the states of the region that still use capital punishment to introduce a moratorium on its execution.
Nevertheless, on August 9, 2012, the governor of Pennsylvania ordered for October 3, 2012, the execution of T.Williams, a 48-year-old African American who had been exposed to sexual violence starting from the age of 6 and killed his two offenders at the age of 17 and 18. According to his lawyers, the jury while passing the verdict was not aware of the T.Williams’ experience in childhood. Moreover, the members of the jury were misled on the fact that the convict could seek pardon if given a milder sentence. On June 29, 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States dismissed the request for the verdict revision.
In September 2011, a 42-year-old African American T.Davis was executed in the state of Georgia despite the vigorous efforts by American and international human rights activists, who sought pardon for him as there were certain doubts about his guilt (he was convicted of killing a police officer based on the evidence of nine witnesses, seven of whom changed their testimonies later on).

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@DanBruce  

It is impossible to avoid mistakes in the judicial system. Sometimes a person may be executed, and several years later him recognized to be innocent.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Sibir_Russia If you love russia so much stay off our american web sites and talk to your russian friends. No one cares about your alleged homeland.

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

@DavidBell@JohnnyPappas Not just awake but he cut her jugular and she bled to death... awake and alive after he anally raped her because he couldn't do it vaginally (lack of lubrication likely)

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@HeatherSharp@Sibir_Russia  

In the USA it is noted a dangerous trend towards strengthening racist and xenophobic sentiments. The American law enforcement authorities register progressive increase in the number of extremist groups, significant number of crimes committed on the grounds of racial, religious and ethnic enmity.


According to data of the non-governmental organization Southern Poverty Law Center, currently in the USA there are over one thousand extremist groups, including neo-Nazi (the National Alliance, the National Socialist Movement, the National Socialist Vanguard and the NSDAP/AO), racist and separatist ones. Since 2000, the number of organizations uniting people on the grounds of hatred towards any group of the population has increased by 69 per cent.

The rigid constitutional frameworks seriously complicate the prosecution of the neo-Nazi radicals in the USA. If these persons nevertheless find themselves in the dock, then they are charged, as a rule, with other crimes.

According to the data received by the FBI during the Vigilant Eagle operation carried out in the beginning of 2009 the right-wing extremist groups have intensified their efforts in the country to recruit the supporters, to distribute threatening messages and to buy arms.

In general, according to the FBI’s data among the hate crimes committed in the USA more than 80 per cent are motivated by of the racial, religious and ethnic hatred. At the same time among the crimes committed on the grounds of the racial hatred nearly in 70 per cent of cases the Afro-Americans are the victims.

LlewellynAndrew
LlewellynAndrew

@PosterityEvony@Sibir_RussiaGood point. I am from Africa so if I lived in America and became a citizen I would be an African American.Africa is a vredy diverse place with many cultures and colours but I guess it ok for people to want to call themselves that if they like. Africa is a great place after all.


Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@PosterityEvony@Sibir_Russia  

In Italy, on the contrary.

Silvio Berlusconicalled Obama a "nice, young, sunburned".

In USA so don't say, In Russia so don't say,but in Italy so taken.

This just language features.

 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@PosterityEvony@Sibir_Russia  

Negr - in the Russian language as the main name of the people of the Negroid race.
The word negr in Russia does not carry the insulting meaning.
If you have a dark skin color, you might be called a negr in Russia, even if you are a Frenchman or just good sunburnt.
 

DanBruce
DanBruce

@zingbat @DanBruce Low pressure sounds even better. Unfortunately, it probably will not make money for some pharmaceutical company and/or equipment manufacturer, so it will not even be considered. Also, a certain portion of our population wants the method used for execution to be painful and cause suffering. I don't want that. As a society, we have a responsibility to remove destructive people from our society by execution, and to do so with a minimum amount of pain to the person being executed (and with a minimum of expense to the rest of us).

GregoryA.Peterson
GregoryA.Peterson

@Sibir_Russia WHOOPS!!! Some days you feel like a nut...life is not air and the very best any of us can hope for is to die in a humane dignified manner and in as much as a person  sentenced to die has already (in theory) committed horrendous acts against other humans, to die in a humane dignified manner is far more than that person deserves....

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@PosterityEvony@Sibir_Russia  

I think it would be nice if the United States imposes a moratorium on the application of the death penalty, at least in relation to minors. Don't you think so?

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@GregoryA.Peterson  

I think, should introduce a moratorium on executions in the USA, as is customary in many civilized countries, to exclude the errors. 

GregoryA.Peterson
GregoryA.Peterson

@Sibir_Russia @GregoryA.Peterson no that's not what I said I SAID THE APPEALS PROCESS IS WAY TOO DRAWN OUT....try a reading comprehension course....go back to Russia IF that is really where you are from, you come off as a phony just trying to annoy people...

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@GregoryA.Peterson@Sibir_Russia  

Currently in the United States may arrest any American at any time without charge, without access to him a lawyer only on suspicion of terrorism. You can eliminate the possibility of error, or the possibility of a death sentence in respect of such persons without trial?

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@HeatherSharp@Sibir_Russia  

Number of inmates in the United States increased by comparison with 1972on 7,6 times. In 1972 the U.S. had less than 300 thousand prisoners. In 1990 it was 1 million. Today the United States, where there are more than 2.3 million inmates, tops the list of countries by number of people in custody. This is about 25% of all those serving time in the world (the U.S. share of world population is 5%). The figure of 754 prisoners per 100 thousand of population makes the United States the world leader in the ratio of the number of prisoners to total population. As the American specialist publication «California Prison Focus» said, in the history of mankind there has never before been a society which held so many of its own people in jail. More people are imprisoned In the U.S. than in any other country - half a million more than in China, even though the population of China is five times more than that of the United States. The Soviet Gulag system of the 1930`s was on a much smaller scale than is the American gulag at the beginning of the XXI century.  

 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Sibir_Russia @Openminded1 You are also a phony, most likely not even russian. My guess you live here in the good old USA and get off with this Russian crap annoying people.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@Justice4All@Sibir_Russia  

Until the 2005 Supreme Court decision in the Roper v. Simmons case, juveniles were executed in the USA (22 juveniles since 1976). In violation of an earlier ruling in the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia, the United States continues to execute mentally retarded persons (at least seven people for the last five years). According to the estimates of the Mental Health America, five to ten per cent of all convicts under death sentence in the USA suffer from serious mental disorders. 

Justice4All
Justice4All

@Sibir_RussiaI think it would be nice if the United States imposes a moratorium on the application of the death penalty, at least in relation to minors. Don't you think so?


Minors can not be executed by law. In order to get the death penalty a person has to be over 18 at the time of the crime.


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