2019 Execution Complications in Ohio

Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2019

Déjà vu again? Over the past several years, Ohio has faced several difficulties establishing and implementing a working execution protocol. Like many states over the past decade, Ohio has had difficulties obtaining drugs to use in executions due to suppliers being less inclined to sell the drugs for use in executions due to public pressure by outspoken execution opponents. As such, states began turning to new methods of execution drugs.

By January of 2014, Ohio had established a new execution protocol that involved a drug never before used in a lethal injection, midazolam, which is a sedative. While there were concerns over the effectiveness of the drug, Ohio was allowed to proceed with the execution of Dennis McGuire in January 2014. The execution took approximately 25 minutes, which was considered rather long for a lethal injection. According to various reports, after the drugs were administered, McGuire gasped several times during the execution. Concerns intensified that McGuire was not fully unconscious during the execution. Following an in-depth investigation, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections determined that Dennis was indeed unconscious for the execution, however they increased the amount of drugs used in the execution.

 

Following the revision of the execution protocol, several inmates filed appeals, leading to Judge Gregory Frost to postpone all executions until the issues were resolved.  In December 2014, Ohio passed a law which provided identity protection for those who supply the state of execution drugs.  In January of 2015, Ohio put a new execution protocol into place, which included a new combination of execution drugs.  In order to allow time for new execution drugs to be purchased and staff trained on the new protocol, all 2015 executions were rescheduled after January 2016.

 

Due to the Ohio Department of Corrections having ongoing problems obtaining execution drugs, the state was, in 2016, forced to, once again, rescheduled numerous executions.

 

In 2017, executions resumed in Ohio, with the execution of Ronald Phillips on July 27. However, in 2019, newly elected Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that due to concerns over the execution drugs, no executions will take place until a new lethal injection protocol has been established. This has resulted in numerous executions being rescheduled. Governor DeWine's announcement came after Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz ruled that the 3-drug lethal injection procedure used in Ohio was, essentially, a "fatal waterboarding." Judge Merz claimed that according to expert testimony, all the drugs would produce agony for the inmate during the execution. Judge Merz, however, ruled that he was unable to halt the execution due to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, that requires inmates to provide a suitable and viable alternative for execution if they argue that the state's method of execution is cruel.

 

A three judge panel of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has since ruled that Judge Merz was wrong in his ruling and that an inmate feeling as if they are being suffocated during a lethal injection does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment or make it unconstitutional.  In their decision, the judges quoted from a decision written by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.  Ohio, however, continues to have problems obtaining execution drugs, with Governor DeWine stating that he is concerned that drug makers will cut off supplies of all medicine to the state if the suppliers discover the state is using their drugs in an objectionable manner, such as for executions.  Governor DeWine has rescheduled all executions that were scheduled for the remainder of 2019, and at least one in early 2020.

 

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