Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Moratorium sought on death penalty in Ohio

ACLU, others object to drug combination

COLUMBUS — The execution of convicted killer Dennis McGuire last week has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union and some state lawmakers to seek a moratorium on Ohio’s use of the death penalty.

But Dudley Sharp, a national pro-death-penalty expert, says a moratorium is unwarranted.

“The inmate was unconscious. He didn’t feel a thing,” Mr. Sharp said, basing his opinion on research he has conducted. “What’s the big deal here?”

Mr. Sharp, a victims’ advocate from Houston who champions capital punishment, said the drugs used in McGuire’s execution on Thursday affect the respiratory system, and the results could have been expected.

“The ACLU is doing this because they oppose the death penalty, not because of what happened to this rapist-torturer-murderer,” Mr. Sharp said.

McGuire, 53, struggled, gasped for breath, made choking sounds, and clenched his fists while apparently unconscious for about 10 minutes before being pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m. Thursday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.

There was no definite indication that the drug combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative, triggered McGuire’s struggles.

But, said Allen L. Bohnert, one of McGuire’s federal public defenders, the combination, never before used in the United States, produced a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.”

McGuire was executed for the 1989 rape and murder of Joy Stewart, 22, of West Alexandria, in Preble County in western Ohio. Ms. Stewart was 30 weeks pregnant when McGuire raped, choked, and stabbed her, then slit her throat.

Amber and Dennis McGuire, the children of the executed man, have said that they plan to file a federal lawsuit against the state, arguing that their father’s rights under the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution were violated by his “cruel and unusual death.”

Dr. David Waisel, an anesthesiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, essentially predicted what would happen to McGuire in testimony offered by McGuire’s defense team at a hearing before the execution.

He said McGuire would be “awake and actively conscious for up to five minutes” and was at “substantial, objectively intolerable risk for experiencing the agony and horrifying sensation of being unable to breathe for a relevant time, as he slowly suffocates to death.”

Officials of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and Gov. John Kasich have not commented.

The ACLU of Ohio wrote Mr. Kasich, urging him to “declare an immediate halt to executions in Ohio.”

ACLU Executive Director Christine Link and President Jack Guttenberg want executions stopped at least until an Ohio Supreme Court task force on the issue reports. The task force is not expected to call for ending the death penalty but will likely urge major changes.

Ohio is scheduled to execute Gregory Lott on March 19.

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