Prudent pause

Those who support Ohio’s death penalty laws should be especially vigilant and careful about moving forward


In a prudent move, Gov. John Kasich has postponed the execution of condemned killer Gregory Lott to Nov. 19, eight months later than the previously scheduled date of March 19.

After the egregious execution of 53-year-old Dennis McGuire in January, the Kasich administration should pause Ohio’s killing machine until it has time to select a death drug or multidrug cocktail that it can be reasonably certain is reliable, humane, efficient, and tested. A lack of national standards for how executions should proceed, following a nationwide shortage of lethal drugs, makes such a delay even more necessary.

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To avoid constitutional challenges, those who support Ohio’s death penalty should be especially vigilant and careful about moving forward. Ohio and other states must find ways to execute prisoners in a manner that meets the standards of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Until now, Ohio and other death-penalty states, because of a shortage of pentobarbital, have scrambled to find drugs that are convenient and available, even if they are not adequately tested. Executed with a drug combination never before tried in the United States, McGuire, a convicted murderer and rapist, took as long as 26 minutes to die — possibly the state’s longest lethal injection procedure. He convulsed, choked, gasped, and snorted.

His death sentence, however justified, turned into a sentence of death preceded by torture. As carried out by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), the execution violated the standards of a civilized society.

Of course, the Kasich administration isn’t saying all that; it isn’t saying much of anything. In an email to The Blade’s editorial page, DRC spokesman JoEllen Smith said the “reprieve was granted to allow time for the broader, more comprehensive review to be completed.”

Even so, it’s clear that the administration doesn’t want a repeat. McGuire’s execution brought national shame to Ohio and a lawsuit by McGuire’s family against the state, alleging that the execution was cruel and inhumane. Lott is suing in federal court to stop his execution, arguing that Ohio’s method risks a cruel and inhumane death.

European manufacturers of pentobarbital are refusing on moral grounds to assist corrections departments with drugs used for lethal injections. That position is forcing states to buy custom-made drugs from compounding, or specialty, pharmacies that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate. Last month, Ohio became the first state to try a two-drug cocktail: midazolam and hydromorphone.

The state conducts a routine review after every execution, but this review is not routine: It must determine what went horribly wrong and how the state can avoid another botched execution. Four other convicted killers are scheduled to be executed before November, including Arthur Tyler on May 28.

Governor Kasich’s decision to delay Lott’s lethal injection suggests he is sensitive to the troubling questions raised by McGuire’s execution. He shouldn’t proceed with any more until he gets some answers.