Ohio's executions are on hold until August while lawyers haggle over the state's lethal injection protocol, which was tweaked after the controversial death of killer Dennis McGuire in January.
The delay — which gives a temporary reprieve to two death-row inmates — comes amid nationwide debate over lethal injections sparked by a botched execution in Oklahoma last month.
Federal Judge Gregory Frost ruled earlier this week that Ohio cannot carry out executions before Aug. 15 "in light of the need for discovery and necessary preparations related to the adoption and implementation of the new execution protocol."
After it could no longer obtain pentobarbital — which manufacturers refuse to sell for executions — Ohio created a new protocol using two drugs: the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.
When McGuire was executed with the untested combination in January, he took 25 minutes to die and appeared to struggle for breath, according to media witnesses.
After a review, prison officials declared in April that the execution was not painful and said they would continue to use the two drugs, though in a higher dosage to ensure death is swift.
Frost's order derails plans for the July 2 execution of Ronald Phillips, who raped and murdered a 3-year-old girl. He had previously won a reprieve while the state considered, but ultimately rejected, a request to donate his organs to family members.
It also cancels the Aug. 6 execution of William Montgomery, who shot to death two women in 1986.
Executions are also on hold in Oklahoma following the April 29 lethal injection of Clayton Lockett, who appeared to regain consciousness and writhe in pain after what prison officials described as a vein collapse.
— Tracy Connor