Ohio Governor John Kasich has taken the extraordinary decision to delay the execution of a convicted felon on Wednesday. Ronald Phillips had been sentenced to die for raping and murdering his former partner’s three-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, during 1993 in Akron.
Phillips was set to face lethal injection on Thursday, using a two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone. The occasion would have represented the first time in U.S. history that these two drugs had been employed for a state-sanctioned execution; the drug of choice, pentobarbital, was in short supply.
In a surprise twist, however, Phillips was granted a stay of execution to determine whether his non-vital tissues and organs were viable for donation to his ailing mother and sister. It is also possible that these donations could benefit other people, aside from the offender’s close relatives.
The stay of execution will remain in effect until July 2, 2014, providing medical practitioners sufficient time to investigate whether potential donation is feasible.
The 40-year-old’s attorney, Timothy Sweeney, maintains that Phillips’ mother is in dire need of a kidney transplant, as she currently remains on dialysis. The felon has also expressed a desire to donate his heart to his sister, who suffers from a heart condition. Sweeney stresses that the request was not a delay tactic, but merely an attempt to do what is honorable.
Meanwhile, Governor Kasich remained fully aware of the unusual nature of the plea, but offered his justifications for the postponement:
“Ronald Phillips committed a heinous crime for which he will face the death penalty… I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen.”
According to MSNBC, the original request was submitted by Sweeney on Nov. 11, 2013, which prompted a swift and unanimous decision on Nov. 12. The appeal was flatly denied by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), citing safety and legal issues as being the main impediments.
Spokesperson for the department, JoEllen Smith, highlighted the “unprecedented” nature of the request, which had been submitted at the last-minute. Smith explained that the DRC had investigated all available options and concluded that they were unable to facilitate organ donation of any kind, before or after lethal injection.
Although the Ohio prison has a medical policy that obliges organ donations from inmates, the delayed request also presented logistical issues and security concerns that facility officials claim could not be overcome.
This verdict was then overturned by Governor Kasich, the very next day, providing Phillips with nearly eight extra months of life, until the next scheduled execution date. Kasich discussed his controversial decision, explaining that it was worth investigating the viability of organ donation, if it meant potentially saving the lives of others.
Speaking to Reuters, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Richard Dieter claims never to have seen a case quite like Phillips’. He outlines that donations of non-vital organs are relatively common practice in inmates awaiting their execution on death row, but a stay of execution has not been enacted to enable such a situation.
Dieter admits that a death row inmate during the mid-1990s was permitted to donate a kidney to his mother, whilst incarcerated, but not at a time when his execution was imminent. As an individual who opposes the death penalty, Dieter had the following to add:
“If the whole idea is to save a life, there’s one life to be saved simply by not executing the person at all.”
According to Kasich’s office, if Phillips is determined to be a viable donor, following appropriate medical examination, the necessary procedures would be performed and he would be immediately returned to death row, ready for his newly appointed execution date.
By James Fenner