CLEVELAND (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