January 8, 2015 / 10:28 PM / 5 years ago

Ohio to change execution drugs after inmate's prolonged death

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio will halt use of the two-drug lethal injection combination that led to the protracted death of an inmate a year ago and has postponed an execution scheduled for February, officials said on Thursday.

The state prison system is seeking to add a drug used for lethal injections from 1999 to 2011, thiopental sodium, to pentobarbital as the two drugs permitted for lethal injections in the future, said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Either can be used, she said.

Ohio and other states with the death penalty are seeking new execution drug formulations after some pharmaceutical companies stopped supplying products because they no longer wanted to be associated with capital punishment.

Last January, Ohio was the first state to use a combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone when it executed Dennis McGuire for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman in 1993.

McGuire’s execution took 25 minutes and witnesses said he gasped and seized for 15 of those minutes. His adult children have filed a lawsuit in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost in May ordered a halt to executions in Ohio to give attorneys for condemned inmates time to prepare challenges to the state’s new plans for lethal injections. He later extended that stay to mid-January 2015.

In December, Ohio passed a law that provided confidentiality to compounding pharmacies that prepare the lethal formulations. Four death row inmates have filed a federal lawsuit against the new law, saying it violates their right to due process.

One of the plaintiffs, Ronald Phillips, was scheduled for execution in February for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 3-year old daughter.

The Feb. 11 execution of Phillips, and possibly others, will be delayed while the state secures a supply of pentobarbital and thiopental sodium, Smith said in the news release.

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