COLUMBUS — A condemned inmate who raped and killed a pregnant woman nearly 25 years ago and faces execution next month by a never-tried method of lethal injection does not deserve mercy, the state parole board said Friday.
The board’s recommendation followed arguments by lawyers for Dennis McGuire that he be spared execution because of his chaotic and abusive childhood and the failure of his original attorneys to work hard enough on his behalf.
In its ruling, the board criticized McGuire’s attempts over the years to evade responsibility, and said a recent letter he sent Gov. John Kasich describing the slaying as a lovers’ quarrel gone wrong was “disingenuous.” It also questioned his claims of childhood abuse and instead focused on the brutality of Joy Stewart’s stabbing death.
“McGuire’s crime is very disturbing in character, as it involved the rape and slaying of a nearly eight-month pregnant woman,” the board said.
McGuire was mentally, physically and sexually abused as a child and has impaired brain function that makes him prone to act impulsively, his lawyers said in a filing with the board, which heard McGuire’s case for clemency Dec. 12.
“Dennis was at risk from the moment he was born. The lack of proper nutrition, chaotic home environment, abuse, lack of positive supervision and lack of positive role models all affected Dennis’ brain development,” the lawyers wrote.
McGuire is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for the February 1989 stabbing death of Stewart in western Ohio’s Preble County. Kasich has the final say on whether it will proceed.
McGuire, 53, took responsibility for the killing in a handwritten letter he sent Kasich earlier this month.
“Sir, I am sorry for what I have done to the Stewart family and Joy herself,” McGuire wrote.
McGuire’s lead attorney, Rob K. Lowe, said in an email Friday that McGuire still holds out hope the governor will reject the parole board’s recommendation and commute his sentence to life in prison.
“The jury that convicted Dennis, which struggled to unanimously recommend a sentence, heard very little about the neglect and abuse that filled Dennis’s childhood,” he said. “Additionally, Dennis’s behavior in prison has shown that he would not pose a threat to the safety of an institution, were he to remain in prison for the rest of his life.”
Early next month, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will announce which chemicals will be used to execute McGuire.
A specialty dose of pentobarbital was to have been used on death row inmate Ron Phillips in November, but he received a reprieve until July after he expressed a desire to donate his organs. In granting the reprieve, Kasich said he wanted to allow time for medical experts to study whether Phillips could donate non-vital organs, such as a kidney, before being executed. Phillips’ mother has kidney disease and a sister has heart problems.
Ohio’s supply of its former drug, the FDA-regulated version of pentobarbital, has expired. Additional doses aren’t available because the manufacturer has put it off limits for executions.
That leaves Ohio with two choices. The first is pentobarbital produced by compounding pharmacies, which are registered with the state but not federally regulated.
The second is a two-drug combination of a sedative, midazolam, and a painkiller, hydromorphone.
Neither approach has been used in a U.S. execution.
Prosecutors in Preble County say a death sentence is appropriate for such a shocking crime. Stewart, 22, was newly married and about 30 weeks pregnant when she was killed.
“One can scarcely conceive of a sequence of crimes more shocking to the conscience or to moral sensibilities than the senseless kidnapping and rape of a young, pregnant woman followed by her murder,” prosecutors said in their filing with the board.
DNA tests over the years have established McGuire as the killer.
His attorneys say a plea bargain that was offered to McGuire but rejected should be taken into consideration, since it shows the state at one time didn’t believe a death sentence was necessary.
Prosecutors say McGuire’s decision not to accept that offer is part of his refusal to accept responsibility for the crime.