Lengthy Ohio execution puts focus on death penalty, suit likely

Fri Jan 17, 2014 3:30pm EST

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By Kim Palmer
    CLEVELAND, Jan 17 (Reuters) - An Ohio man's execution by an
untested two-drug method that left him gasping for several
minutes drew promises on Friday for a lawsuit by his family and
renewed debate over capital punishment in the United States.
    Dennis McGuire, 53, who admitting raping and killing a
pregnant woman, was executed Thursday with a sedative-painkiller
combination never before used in the United States, where lethal
injection is the preferred method of execution.
    The execution witnessed by reporters and McGuire's adult
children took about 25 minutes to complete, amid reports that he
gasped for an unusually long 15 minutes while clenching his
fists, and that his stomach churned up and down visibly.
    Typical executions end in death after about 10 minutes of
sleep, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death
Penalty Information Center, which tracks the use of capital
punishment.
    As a result, McGuire's constitutional protection against
cruel and unusual punishment was violated, said attorney Jon
Paul Rion, who plans to file a federal lawsuit next week on
behalf of McGuire's children.
    "There is no question in their minds that he was suffering,"
Rion told Reuters on Friday. "We do not want this procedure to
occur again or be used on any other person."
    A death penalty advocate said Friday that concern over the
inmate's alleged suffering was overblown.
    "Not only did his victim suffer vastly more, but the truth
is most people are going to suffer more than he did when he
died," Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the death penalty
proponent Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told Reuters on
Friday.
    Ohio executed McGuire using the sedative midazolam and the
pain killer hydromorphone, a mix Ohio created as a substitute
for the pentobarbital that has been in short supply by U.S.
corrections agencies since its manufacturer objected to its use
in executions across the United States. 
    Some states have turned to compounding pharmacies to obtain
drugs for executions, adding to the criticism about their risks.
    The McGuire execution could make courts more skeptical of
state claims that the drugs they plan to use for lethal
injections will be reliable and not cause severe pain, Dieter
said.
    McGuire's lawyers had argued in court that the drugs put him
at risk of severe pain and a terrifying inability to breath
before losing consciousness during the execution.
    U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost, who halted Ohio
executions from 2006 to 2009 after the state botched three of
them, refused to stop the execution.
    But he ordered ahead of time a full documentation of the
execution and preservation of the materials used, including
vials, packaging and syringes.
    Prison officials said a routine review of the execution will
be finished in the next few weeks.
    Steven Hawkins, Amnesty International USA executive
director, said in a statement it was an outrage that Ohio
experimented with an untried method and said it was time for the
United States to end capital punishment.
    Attorney Allen Bohnert, an assistant federal public defender
who represented McGuire, called the execution a failed
experiment and said Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican,
should declare a moratorium on executions in the state.
    A Kasich spokesman declined to comment and referred
questions to the state corrections department. 

 (Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing
by Karen Brooks, David Bailey and Marguerita Choy)
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