New execution drug combo questioned

Scotus Lethal Injection

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) – A condemned Ohio inmate appeared to gasp several times and took more than 15 minutes to die Thursday as he was executed with a combination of drugs never before tried in the U.S.

Death row inmate Dennis McGuire made several loud snorting or snoring sounds during one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999

In attempting to halt his execution with the new method, McGuire’s attorneys had argued last week he was at substantial risk of “agony and terror” while straining to catch his breath as he experienced a medical phenomenon known as air hunger.

Ohio officials used intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put McGuire to death for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant woman, Joy Stewart.

The state had adopted the new execution method after supplies of another execution drug dried up because the manufacturer put it off limits for capital punishment.

McGuire thanked Stewart’s family for a letter he apparently received from them referring to “kind words” he said meant a lot. “I’m going to heaven, I’ll see you there when you come,” he said.

McGuire’s adult children sobbed a few feet away in a witness room as they looked on at the state death house in Lucasville in southern Ohio.

McGuire opened and shut his left hand as if waving to his daughter, son and daughter-in-law. More than a minute later he raised himself up, looked in the direction of his family and said, “I love you. I love you.”

McGuire was still for almost five minutes, then emitted a loud snort, as if snoring, and continued to make that sound over the next several minutes. He also opened and shut his mouth several times without making a sound as his stomach rose and fell.

“Oh my God,” his daughter, Amber McGuire, said as she observed her father’s final moments.

A coughing sound was Dennis McGuire’s last apparent movement, at 10:43 a.m. He was pronounced dead 10 minutes later.

Previous executions with the former execution drugs took much less time, and typically did not include the types of snorts and gasps that McGuire uttered.

State attorneys had disputed claims that McGuire would experience terror as he was put to death with the new method. A federal 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.

McGuire, 53, was sentenced to death for killing Stewart in Preble County in western Ohio. The newlywed was eight months pregnant at the time.

Stewart’s slaying went unsolved for 10 months until McGuire, jailed on an unrelated assault and hoping to improve his legal situation, told investigators he had information about the woman’s Feb. 12, 1989, death. His attempts to blame the crime on his brother-in-law quickly unraveled and soon he was accused of being Stewart’s killer, according to prosecutors.

More than a decade later, DNA evidence confirmed McGuire’s guilt, and he acknowledged that he was responsible in a letter to Gov. John Kasich last month.

“One can scarcely conceive of a sequence of crimes more shocking to the conscience or to moral sensibilities than the senseless kidnapping and rape of a young, pregnant woman followed by her murder,” Preble County prosecutors said in a filing with the state parole board last month.

His attorneys argued McGuire was mentally, physically and sexually abused as a child and has impaired brain function that makes him prone to act impulsively.

“Dennis was at risk from the moment he was born,” the lawyers said in a parole board filing. “The lack of proper nutrition, chaotic home environment, abuse, lack of positive supervision and lack of positive role models all affected Dennis’ brain development.”

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show McGuire unsuccessfully sought a reprieve in recent weeks to try to become an organ donor. In November, Kasich granted a death row inmate an eight-month reprieve to let the prison system study his request to donate a kidney to his sister and his heart to his mother.

Kasich said McGuire couldn’t identify a family member who would receive his organs, as required under prison policy.

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