Home Social Justice Ohio executions halted for one year after lethal injection drug shortage

Ohio executions halted for one year after lethal injection drug shortage

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The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Oct. 19 that all executions scheduled in 2016 will be delayed until 2017 because of a shortage in the drugs needed to perform the executions.

In a press release, the DRC said the shortage in the required drugs would cause the delay of the execution of 12 inmates currently on death row in the state.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) continues to seek all legal means to obtain the drugs necessary to carry out court ordered executions, but over the past few years it has become exceedingly difficult to secure those drugs because of severe supply and distribution restrictions,” the press release said. “The new dates are designed to provide DRC additional time necessary to secure the required execution drugs.”

Ohio has not carried out any court-ordered executions since Jan. 16, 2014, when it executed Dennis McGuire. McGuire, convicted in the 1989 murder of a 22-year-old pregnant woman, was sentenced to death by a jury in 1994. His 2014 execution was highly controversial as witnesses said McGuire gasped, choked and struggled against his restraints for 10 minutes before succumbing to the lethal combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. After his execution, the remainder of 2014 executions were delayed until 2015. The DRC denies McGuire felt any pain during his execution.  

Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, said the state made an irresponsible choice in using that combination of drugs to execute McGuire.

“The fact of the matter is, Ohio chose to do something that they knew would invite problems,” Werner said. “What it comes down to is how far Ohio is willing to go to carry out executions. Are they willing to try a sort of experiment on people?”

Ohio State Sen. John Eklund, R-Portage, a supporter of the death penalty and chairman of the senate’s criminal justice committee, said that although death should not intentionally be made to be unpleasant for those who receive the ultimate sentence, the nature of an execution is unpleasant.

“I don’t mean to suggest that two wrongs make a right, but putting someone to death is an unpleasant exercise, and again, to suggest that there is a way to make it pleasant under any circumstance 100 percent of the time is unrealistic,” Eklund said.

Ohio has considered importing another drug, sodium thiopental, from sources outside of the U.S. for executions. But in a letter from the FDA obtained by Buzzfeed in August, state prisons were warned that doing so would be illegal because the drug is neither approved by the FDA nor available for purchase in the U.S.  

In lieu of drugs that have been hard to acquire, some have suggested that the state move to other more traditional methods of execution, something other states have already done. In March of 2015, the state of Utah enacted legislation that allowed the use of a firing squad if needed lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

“I think there are many options available to the state of Ohio, many of which have passed muster through the court system as not being cruel and unusual,” Eklund said. “I think that is part of the work of this committee that we have formed to examine all of those options and make some considered judgments.”

The committee Eklund references is one that he says was created last year and is currently examining the methods and means by which the death sentence is carried out to ensure that executions are humane and as without flaw as possible.

Werner, however, worries that reintroducing methods of execution, like the electric chair or firing squad, would have unintended consequences that lawmakers simply do not consider.

“It has an impact on state employees who, in a hypothetical situation, would have to strap somebody to an electric chair and electrocute them,” Werner said. “I worry about the long term psychological effects of what we’re asking those folks to do.”

If all goes to current plan, the next inmate scheduled to be executed is Ronald R. Phillips on Jan. 12, 2017. It remains to be seen, however, how exactly the state will carry that execution out.

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