DAYTON — Ohio has six executions scheduled this year, double the amount the past two years and bucking the national trend of putting fewer killers to death.
The first of the six scheduled is Thursday’s execution of Preble County’s Dennis McGuire, who was convicted of raping and murdering Joy Stewart, 22, a pregnant woman from the Eaton area, in 1989.
Nationally, executions fell in 2013 to 39, well below the peak of 98 in 1999. In 2013, Maryland ended capital punishment to become the sixth state in the past six years to do so. Ohio also has six executions scheduled for 2015.
’’Tell me a state outside of the South that is not only carrying out executions regularly, but has them scheduled more in advance than any other state?” said Richard Dieter, executive director at the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization neither for nor against the death penalty. “(Ohio is) committed to the death penalty, even though, looking around the county, many states are having fewer executions and fewer death sentences.”
Only Texas with 16, Florida with seven and Oklahoma with six had more executions in 2013 than Ohio’s three. Ohio had planned to execute six people last year, but only three happened because one prisoner’s sentence was reduced, another committed suicide in prison and a third was delayed until this year.
Tim Young, director of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, said the number of executions planned is because Ohio is catching up from the years the state did no executions. But Young said the nation’s death-penalty debate should center on the right question.
’’Is the process fair that gets to the death penalty?” Young asked, noting racial and geographic biases and error rate. “If we have an honest debate about that, the answer is clearly no. We cannot have faith in the outcome of these cases.”
Dieter also notes that Ohio has a backlog of death-row inmates and that since the number of new capital punishment crimes has dropped, so will the number of executions drop over time. He also said a commission is studying the effectiveness of the death penalty in Ohio.
“I think the death penalty is in a new era and Ohio is not completely out of step with that change,” Dieter said.
Gov. John Kasich earlier rejected pleas for clemency for McGuire, whose lawyers argued McGuire’s chaotic and abusive childhood are factors for mercy.
Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to use a new and untried lethal-injection cocktail for McGuire’s execution. Ohio turned to its backup protocol due to a shortage of pentobarbital as European manufacturers are hesitant to sell it for executions.
’’One of the challenges that a lot of states are having around the lethal injection process is acquiring the drugs they need as well as challenges to the lethal injection process,” said Thenjiwe Tameika McHarris, a senior campaigner at the anti-death penalty group Amnesty International.
McHarris said two-thirds of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty and 18 of 50 U.S. states have done the same. The battle, she said, is now state-by-state, and is being aided by pharmaceutical companies leery of the process: “A number of companies no longer want to supply to states their product so someone’s life can be taken.”
An ODRC spokeswoman did not specifically address whether Ohio’s other five 2014 scheduled executions will use the mix of midazolam and hydromorphone. The policy notes that pentobarbital is the preferred method, and that officials announce its availability 14 days prior to a scheduled execution. Cuyahoga’s Gregory Lott is scheduled to be executed March 19.
’’The policy explains when what execution drugs will be used, keeping in mind pentobarbital remains in our policy as the primary execution drug,” said the ODRC’s JoEllen Smith, later adding: “Per our policy, DRC will announce approximately 30 days prior to an execution the status of the availability of the execution drugs.”
Ohio’s execution will be the third in the nation this year after death sentences have been carried out in Florida and Oklahoma. The country’s fourth execution in 2014 is scheduled for next week in Texas.
’’Every one of them is going to be using something different than the prior state,” Dieter said. “Four different methods in four executions I think speaks of an experiment or a trial that’s going on about where is lethal injection going.”