Ohio is prepared with a never before used two-drug cocktail to execute Dennis McGuire. McGuire, convicted in 1994 of murdering Joy Stewart in Preble County, was in jail on an unrelated assault charge. Hoping to win some favor and an early release, McGuire told investigators that he had information about the woman’s 1989 death.
While attempting to blame the murder on his brother-in-law, his story quickly unraveled. Soon he was charged with being Stewart’s killer, and more than a decade later, DNA evidence confirmed his guilt. In December 2013, McGuire owned responsibility in a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich. The Ohio Governor has denied the condemned man’s requests for clemency.
Ohio, like many other states, has had to find new drug mixtures after the European manufacturer banned U.S. Prisons from utilizing their drugs in executions. Until September, when it ran out, Ohio had used pentobarbital.
In responding to the shortage, the department was forced to change its policy to allow midazolam and hydromorphine to be used. The combination of these two drugs has never been used previously in an execution in the U.S.
Claiming that McGuire will suffocate to death, his lawyers have been bringing up legal challenge after legal challenge to stall, or stop completely, the scheduled execution. The state of Ohio disagrees with the defense attorney’s objections.
Ohio had planned to use the drug cocktail to execute Ron Phillips last year, but Ohio Governor, John Kasich, granted the killer’s wish for a stay of execution subject to a review of possible organ donation.
Without a reprieve, McGuire will be strapped to the gurney and executed in Lucasville at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Currently 139 men and one woman are on Ohio’s death row.
The drugs used in the execution have been around almost 90 years. Midazolam is a short-acting benzodiazepine class drug. Normally used for treatment of acute seizures in adults, it is also used to treat moderate to severe insomnia. Hydromorphine was first researched and developed in Germany in 1924. Introduced to the market place in 1926 as Dilaudid, the name shows that it is a derivative of morphine. Dilaudid remains the more widely-known name than the generic hydromorphine.
While the precise procedures vary from state to state, there is generally some agreement in the steps taken to execute someone by lethal injection. When the condemned is strapped onto a gurney, two IVs are inserted, one in each arm. While only one line is necessary, the second serves as an emergency backup should the first, or primary, line fail.
The arms are swabbed with alcohol and then the needles inserted. There have been questions raised as to the need for sterilizing the arm prior to execution. Execution experts say there are two reasons. First, the condemned could possibly receive a stay of execution even after the needle is inserted, as was the case with James Autry in 1983. Secondly, swabbing the needle’s entry point serves to moisten and lubricate the skin making insertion easier.
With a saline solution started, the IV tubing leads from the condemned’s arms through a curtain, where prison employees prepare and load the lethal injection syringes. Other staff members then take the syringes and connect them to the IVs. Once everything is in place, the curtain between the condemned and the witnesses is drawn back allowing the witnesses to see inside the death chamber.
Following the condemned’s last words, if he chooses to have a final statement, the warden gives the signal that the execution can go ahead. The executioner(s) then inject the drugs. The condemned’s heart is monitored and death is announced when cardiac signs cease.
While the condemned’s death normally occurs within 8 minutes, the entire procedure can take up to two hours, as happened with Christopher Newton in May 2007. Regardless of the length of the procedure, after affirmation that the condemned is deceased, a coroner signs the death certificate.
As of January 2014, eleven states have either switched or indicated their switch, to a one-drug injection for execution. Ohio became the first state to do so on December 8, 2009. Tonight, January 16, Ohio has prepared a two-drug cocktail for an execution.
By Jerry Nelson