Ohio looks to schedule executions after three-year pause

The last time Ohio executed someone, inmate Donald McGuire experienced noticeable difficulties and discomfort, and the procedure took longer than any other in the state's history.

Oct 3, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Three years after its last execution took 26 minutes and resulted in snorting and gasping from a condemned inmate, Ohio in January will resume putting people to death with a new three-drug cocktail.

The state will use a mixture of the drugs midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride, Ohio Attorney Generals office representative Thomas Madden told federal judge Edmund Sargus at a hearing Oct. 3 in Columbus. That hearing was reported by the Associated Press, the only news outlet allowed to witness the proceedings.

Midazolam sedates, rocuronium bromide paralyzes and potassium chloride stops the heart. Madden told the judge that the mixture is FDA approved and won’t be prepared in a state compounding pharmacy.

Ohio has run into problems with past cocktails. The last time Ohio executed someone, using a cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, inmate Donald McGuire experienced noticeable difficulties and discomfort, and the procedure took longer than any other in the state’s history. The combination hadn’t been used before. His family sued the state to block further use of the drug.

Another, subsequent execution in Arizona using the same method took more than two hours.

Afterward, the state stopped using that cocktail and changed its policies to allow other alternatives — sodium thiopental and pentobarbital — to be used instead. However, Ohio then forced to cease executions altogether, as neither drug is available in the United States for use in executions. 

The state has attempted other ways to obtain drugs. Ohio Gov. John Kasich last year championed a law that made suppliers of execution drugs secret. Ohio has also tried to work with some of the 60-plus compounding pharmacies in the state, which produce various drugs on demand. Neither approach yielded results.

Death penalty opponents and attorneys defending some of Ohio’s more than two-dozen death row inmates have said they’ll fight the use of the new drug cocktail, specifically highlighting the fact that midazolam, one part of the state’s new three-drug cocktail, was also used in McGuire’s troublesome execution.

The next inmate in line for execution is Ronald Phillips, who was condemned for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter. Phillips’ original execution date was delayed by the state’s search for acceptable execution drugs.

Ohio has executions scheduled for the next three years. The Ohio Attorney General’s office says it will release its new full execution policy by the end of the week.