Unclear future for executions after Ohio's longest

Latest execution draws criticism.
Associated Press
Jan 18, 2014


Ohio's latest experience with putting an inmate to death raises new question about the ability of states to carry out executions in constitutional fashion.

A gasping, snorting Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die after the chemicals began flowing Thursday — the longest execution of the 53 carried out in Ohio since capital punishment resumed 15 years ago, according to an Associated Press analysis.

McGuire's adult children said it amounted to torture, with the convicted killer's son, also named Dennis, saying: "Nobody deserves to go through that."

Whether McGuire felt any pain was unclear. His death — unconsciousness, followed by apparent obstructed breathing — followed the prediction of one state expert.

The question may center on states' tolerance for a constitutional method that is difficult to observe, said Doug Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and death penalty expert.

"How much will Ohio care, how much will the rest of the country care, that it seems that what we now have discovered is Ohio is using a method that gets the job done, but looks ugly," Berman said. "We don't know if it actually was ugly. We just know that it looked ugly."

States are in a bind for two main reasons: European companies have cut off supplies of certain execution drugs because of death-penalty opposition overseas. And states can't simply switch to other chemicals without triggering legal challenges from defense attorneys.

"There's only so many times you can say we're going to try a new method, or try something different, where at this point it's just going to invite a lot of skepticism," said Fordham University law professor and lethal injection expert Deborah Denno.

She added: "There's a dead-end we've never seen before with lethal injection."

In light of what happened in Ohio, "states will now have more of a burden to show that they are using a well-thought-out best practice," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which doesn't take a stand for or against capital punishment.

Ohio's prison system is reviewing the execution and declined to comment on the amount of time it took McGuire to die from the two-drug combination, which had never been used before in a U.S. execution. McGuire, 53, was given both a sedative and a painkiller.

Most Ohio death row inmates over the past 15 years took 15 minutes or less to die, records show. In years when Ohio used a three-drug combination, many inmates died in less than 10 minutes, according to the records.

McGuire, who was sentenced to die for raping and stabbing a pregnant newlywed to death in 1989, appeared unconscious but gasped repeatedly as he lay on a gurney, his stomach rising and falling and his mouth opening and shutting.

To end constitutional challenges over the possibility of an inmate suffering undue pain from the widely used three-drug method, states beginning with Ohio switched to single doses of a powerful sedative, sodium thiopental. Even opponents agreed that wouldn't cause pain.

Then sodium thiopental was put off limits when Illinois-based manufacturer Hospira said it couldn't promise authorities in Italy, where the drug was to be produced, that it wouldn't be used in executions.

The next choice, pentobarbital, experienced a similar fate when its Danish maker also prohibited its use in executions, and a U.S. company that inherited the drug agreed to continue the restriction.

Missouri at one point proposed using propofol, the powerful operating room anesthetic infamous for its role in Michael Jackson's overdose death.

But Missouri's governor backed off for fear the European Union, which opposes the death penalty, would cut off exports to the U.S. and cause a nationwide shortage of propofol.

Companies in India and Israel put similar prohibitions on their drugs.

As a result, states will be under a lot of pressure to find new sources of pentobarbital, Dieter said.

One of those sources could be compounding pharmacies, which turn out custom-made batches of drugs.

But concerns about compounding pharmacies arose in 2012 after contaminated pain injections from a Massachusetts facility caused a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

There are a number of painkillers, sedatives and paralyzing agents that can kill if administered in high doses. But switching to one of those could involve long, drawn-out bureaucratic or legislative delays.

And any switch is all but certain to bring legal challenges over the drug's effectiveness and the risk of pain in violation of the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

It's almost certain lawyers will use McGuire's execution to challenge Ohio's plans to put a condemned Cleveland-area killer to death in March.


Franko reported from Dayton, Ohio.



thinkagain's picture

Isn’t the notion of killing killers to show that killing is wrong rather hypocritical?


From the AP:

As his adult children sobbed a few feet away in a witness room, McGuire opened and shut his left hand as if waving to his daughter, son and daughter-in-law.

More than a minute later he raised himself up, looked in the direction of his family and said, “I love you. I love you” — his words audible even though the microphone had been removed.

McGuire was still for almost five minutes, then emitted a loud snort, as if snoring, and continued to make that sound over the next several minutes. He also soundlessly opened and shut his mouth several times as his stomach rose and fell.

“Oh my God,” his daughter, Amber McGuire, said as she observed her father’s final moments.

A coughing sound was Dennis McGuire’s last apparent movement, at 10:43 a.m. He was pronounced dead 10 minutes later.


Let's televise em! I'm sure people would support the death penalty even more!

They could battle lions and bears and hungry dogs!

Kasich could charge pay per view to cover his tax breaks for the wealthy!


I say they bring back - if they ever had it, if not implement it - the electric chair!! That way all talk of the proper drugs to put a person to sleep before they die not being available to rest (sort of speak! LOL!!). Scum bag dies and no drugs from other countries are needed!


Have to agree with ya there


yep, although I really have no issue with him suffering a little bit, I am sure his victim did

red white and blue

I don't care if he suffered if he did GOOD! I'M sure he didn't show his victim mercy


If it were up to me they would be using Draino to kill these sick SOB's! I'm 100% sure he did not care if that pregnant women was feeling any pain when he slit her throat! But the bleeding heart liberals just can't sleep at night unless all criminals are treated humanely.


Draino...nice touch.

Simple Enough II

The courts have ruled "as our society progresses, so must our idea of punishment ", rubbish I say.


Start making the drug in the USA...issue solved.


I agree 100% with you YoMamma. The victims in most cases suffered horribly and had no choice as to how painful their death would be. I'm all for human rights but the murderer's and rapists stripped their victims of their human rights, so should loose any they have. So what if they suffered while being put to death?
It really ticks me off that we have to keep them alive for as long as we do. They were sentenced to the death penalty for a reason...carry it out! The appeals process in some cases go on forever! I understand there have been cases that a person was convicted in error, but those cases have become less due to more advanced forensics. Maybe we should go to the electric chair... it would solve the current problem of not getting the right drugs.


I am pretty sure the pregnant woman he killed suffered too, so if this animal had to suffer a little, then so be it, these bleeding heart liberals make me sick!! I'm sure if the victim woulda been their sister, they'd feel different!

he said she said

At least he was given a sedative and a painkiller. His victim had neither of those when she was being murdered....

I say bring back the gallows and make it one appeal in 365 days and on day 366, he's taken to hang. That's being nice compared to what the monster did to their victim(s); victims didn't get a choice.


We the people want trash like this destroyed. No years of imprisonment either. Let the populace vote on this.

Simple Enough II

Look up the definition of "cruel & unusual punishment " in the law dictionary online, and it is very clear to me (IMO), that the electric chair & lethal injection are acceptable humane ways to carry out the death sentence. What is wrong with the system is the appeals process, and its gerrymandering of the justice system. A year and a day and then we should meet out the justice assigned to the murderer.


Especially now with DNA advancements.Treat them like the scum they are!