April 6, 2017 / 3:43 PM / 4 months ago

U.S. appeals court upholds stay of Ohio lethal injection process

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld a preliminary injunction against Ohio's lethal injection process for executions.

The decision prevents the state from executing three death-row inmates by barring the use of drugs that previously caused problems in executions in Ohio and Arizona that paralyze and stop the heart.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said in a 2-1 ruling it had come to the same conclusion as the U.S. District Court in Columbus when it ruled in January that Ohio's new lethal injection process was problematic.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in her opinion that the question was only whether the lower court abused its discretion in allowing the injunction.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said in an email DeWine's office was reviewing the decision to determine further action.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio spokesman Mike Brickner said Ohio's response suggests there are not likely to be executions in the state in the short term.

Ohio had planned to use a new, three-drug process on Ronald Phillips in February, and the ruling also affects Gary Otte and Raymond Tibbetts, two other death-row inmates scheduled for execution.

Last October, Ohio said it would resume executions in 2017 under a new lethal injection protocol. Ohio implemented a moratorium in 2015 due to difficulty in obtaining drugs needed to perform lethal injections.

Phillips' execution for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, originally set for December 2009, was halted along with all Ohio executions in 2014 after the execution of Dennis McGuire. Ohio was then the first state to use a combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone in an execution.

McGuire's execution for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman took 25 minutes. Witnesses said he gasped and convulsed for 15 minutes.

In January, Magistrate Judge Michael Merz rejected Ohio's use of certain sedatives in executions after the state changed its lethal injection process.

Merz ruled the three-drug protocol adopted using a paralytic agent and potassium chloride was "completely inconsistent" with the state's position in a previous ruling. In granting the injunction, he said the courts had ample time to decide whether the intended executions were constitutional.

In his dissent, Judge Raymond Kethledge said the U.S. Supreme Court never invalidated Ohio's execution procedure as being cruel and unusual punishment. He said the state had not been misleading in its stance but simply responding to changing circumstances when it switched to the three-drug protocol.

Reporting by Kim Palmer and Ben Klayman Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by James Dalgleish

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