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Attorney: Ohio execution changes not acceptable

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    Ronald Phillips.


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    FILE - The gurney in the death chamber is shown in this May 27, 2008 file photo from Huntsville, Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, responding to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press, released documents Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 showing the purchase of eight vials of pentobarbital last month from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)



Ronald Phillips.


COLUMBUS — A prison doctor couldn’t find veins in the arms of a death row inmate during a pre-execution checkup, the inmate said today by video in rare court testimony.

Condemned child killer Ronald Phillips said the doctor could only find a vein on his right hand following an examination Oct. 18 at the medical center at Chillicothe Correctional Institution south of Columbus.

“I guess the Lord hid my veins from them,” Phillips said, referring to a comment he made that day after the checkup ended.

Phillips, 40, testified under questioning by his attorneys that the doctor said he was not part of the state’s lethal injection process when asked to do the checks. A prison nurse also participated.

Phillips said he had a fear of needles dating from childhood when he said his parents would sell drugs and let addicts shoot up in their kitchen in a tough Akron neighborhood.

Phillips, wearing glasses and a white prison shirt over a black T-shirt, testified by video hookup from death row for more than an hour. He is scheduled to die Nov. 14 for raping and killing Sheila Marie Evans, the 3-year-old daughter of his girlfriend, in 1993 in Akron.

Phillips testified as part of a lawsuit brought by his attorneys to delay his execution while they gather evidence against the state’s new execution policy, which includes a never-tried, two-drug injection process.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced the new policy last month and said Monday it would use that process, a combination of a sedative and painkiller.

Phillips’ attorneys say the department’s announcements came too close to the execution date to allow a meaningful challenge. The state says nothing is substantially different about the new system.

Judge Gregory Frost originally granted Phillips permission to testify in person, then switched to the video testimony when it was clear courtroom technology could handle the unusual arrangement. There are no recent examples of Ohio death row inmates testifying in person or by video in federal court cases.

The hearing today began by focusing on the state’s decision to allow the prisons director or death house warden to delegate responsibility for changes in the execution process. That could include any deviation from the policy, down to paperwork documenting a particular step.

Ohio has walked away from that promise with the new policies, Allen Bohnert, an attorney for Phillips, told the judge.

“Close enough for government work is not acceptable in applying this death penalty protocol,” Bohnert said.

An attorney for the state said Ohio is committed to carrying out the execution in a humane, dignified and constitutional manner and understands that commitment.

“The state will do what the state says it will do,” said Christopher Conomy, an assistant Ohio attorney general.

Phillips’ attorneys are also challenging the state’s new policy for the lethal drugs it will use.

The state’s first choice is a specialty dose of pentobarbital mixed by a compounding pharmacy. If that can’t be obtained — as in the case of Phillips’ execution — the state will use the two-drug method to put Phillips to death.

Phillips’ lawyers argue in court filings that the two drugs could cause severe side effects, including painful vomiting.

The drugs Ohio is proposing to use on Phillips will cause him to stop breathing within a few minutes, an anesthesiologist said in a statement Thursday as part of a filing by the state in support of the new method.

Irreversible brain and heart damage will follow and the inmate will die a few minutes later, according to Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist.

The drugs are midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller.

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