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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 5/14/2014

EDITORIAL

Get it right

Gov. John Kasich must find more efficient, reliable, and humane ways to administer executions in Ohio

With President Obama ordering a federal review of a botched execution in Oklahoma last month, and Ohio’s history of incompetence in administering the death penalty, critics of capital punishment are calling for a moratorium — or even ban — on executions in Ohio.

That isn’t warranted. But Gov. John Kasich must continue to look for more efficient, reliable, and humane ways of administering the death penalty.

The Blade’s long-standing support of the death penalty compels us to urge Mr. Kasich to ensure that executions continue to meet constitutional standards — specifically, the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

To avoid constitutional challenges or federal intervention, those who support Ohio’s death penalty must be especially vigilant. A lack of national standards for how executions should proceed in the 32 states that have the death penalty, along with a nationwide shortage of lethal drugs, make such diligence even more urgent.

A coalition of states, working with the federal government, should craft national standards and protocols that death-penalty states can follow. The President’s broad federal review of the death penalty, conducted by the U.S. attorney general, should include such recommendations.

Some executions around the country arguably have not met constitutional standards. In Oklahoma last month, convicted killer Clayton Lockett, 38, died of a heart attack 40 minutes after his lethal-injection execution began.

An execution in Ohio in January was also botched, when Dennis McGuire, executed with a drug combination never before tried in the United States, took 25 minutes to die — one of the state’s longest lethal injection procedures — as he convulsed, choked, gasped, and snorted.

After the execution of 53-year-old McGuire, a convicted murderer and rapist, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction conducted a cursory review. The state recently concluded that McGuire’s execution was humane and constitutional, and stated that he did not experience pain and distress.

Nevertheless, DRC said it plans to increase the dosage of its unique two-drug cocktail for future executions — from 10 milligrams to 50 milligrams of midazolam and from 40 milligrams to 50 milligrams of hydromorphone.

On the surface, the state’s finding that McGuire didn’t feel pain appears questionable, ignoring the physical evidence in the execution. No one will ever know with certainty what McGuire felt during his final minutes.

It’s clear something went wrong, but that doesn’t mean the execution was unconstitutional. The Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free death; whatever discomfort McGuire felt pales beside the pain and terror his victim experienced.

Ohio turned to the new lethal-injection cocktail last fall after European pharmaceutical companies, for moral and legal reasons, blocked sales of the state’s primary execution drug, pentobarbital, to corrections departments.

As states scramble to find drugs that are available and convenient — even if they are not adequately tested — they must work together and with the federal government to find more efficient, reliable, and humane ways to administer the death penalty.

Governor Kasich, citing troubling irregularities in the case, recently commuted Arthur Tyler’s death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tyler, 54, was scheduled to be executed on May 28 for a 1983 murder. Even without a moratorium on executions, the state has time to get this procedure right.



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