The controversial execution of one of Ohio’s 140 inmates -comprised of 139 men and one woman- on death row took place this morning. The death of Dennis McGuire, which was deemed inhumane by his lawyers, took 15 minutes of exasperated gasping and “snoring” sounds before the man was finally pronounced dead.
McGuire was convicted in 1994 for the February 12, 1989 rape and stabbing murder of pregnant 22-year-old Joy Stewart. The execution took place at 10:53 a.m. ET today. It was a contentious death, which was visibly exasperated due to the use of experimental drugs. European-based manufactures have banned United States prisons from using their medications for purpose of capital punishment. Among the companies involved in the ban is Danish-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate. Ohio has exhausted its supply for the drug since it resumed capital punishment in 1999, and has received that go-head to use trial lethal injection methods.
The state corrections department told CNN that the facility used the sedative midazolam, a short-acting benzodiazepine sedative marketed under the trade names Dormicum, Hypnovel, and Versed to complete the sentence. The narcotic painkiller hydromorphone, an opiate that often is prescribed under the trade name Dilaudid was also used.
McGuire’s attorneys protested the use of these controversial drugs in the execution, telling CNN that he would “suffocate to death in agony and terror.” A medical phenomenon called “air hunger,” or dyspnea in clinical terms, which is cause from a descent into respiratory arrest. They also described the method of execution as “unconstitutionally cruel.” His prolonged death and the chilling sounds made during the execution suggest that this may have been the case, although Ohio officials say that previous executions by this method did not include the symptoms that McGuire presented.
Before the 53-year-old man died waved to his adult son, daughter and daughter-in-law and he reportedly uttered “I’m going to heaven, I’ll see you there when you come. I love you, I love you.” His children stood feet away in a separate viewing room, visibly emotionally and weeping. His daughter could be heard repeating the words “oh my God.”
McGuire thanked Stewart’s relatives for the letter of clemency he had received from them, though the victim’s older sister, Carol Avery remarked that he still must pay for his crimes. He was brought Wednesday evening to the death house, where he wrote letters, called his mother and sister, and visited with his children. His last meal consisted of roast beef, chicken and ice cream.
Last month, in a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich, McGuire acknowledged his guilt, after spending the preceding 10 months attempting to place accountability for the crime on his brother-in-law. DNA evidence condemned McGuire, at which point he acknowledged accountability for his actions. His attorneys disputed that he was not criminally responsible for his wrongdoings, claiming he was the product of an abusive and dysfunctional upbringing that resulted in altered brain function that left him impulsive and irreproachable.
Stewart’s sister Carol Avery says that the inhumanity of the controversial execution method is nothing compared to the suffering her sister endured at McGuire’s hands. Avery concedes that McGuire pushed her sister from a car, attempted to rape her vaginally, sodomized her and then left her and her unborn son to die in the woods of Preble County, Ohio. Despite forgiving him, Avery said it was time for him to face justice. She goes on to comment that the murder destroyed her parents and that they died knowing that their adopted daughter’s killer was still alive in this world.