Ohio prison officials said Monday that a review of the controversial January execution of Dennis McGuire has determined that he did not suffer any distress, but they will increase the dosage of the lethal injection next time.
"The Department remains confident that it conducted the execution in a humane, constitutional way and that the inmate was completely unconscious and felt no pain," Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman Jo-Ellen Smith said in a statement.
A lawyer for McGuire's relatives — who have asked a federal court to ban the use of execution drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for that purpose — called the state's findings "a one-sided, minimal review."
McGuire, who was convicted of raping and stabbing to death a pregnant woman, took 25 minutes to die after being injected with an untried cocktail of drugs. He appeared to be gasping for breath at points, witnesses reported at the time.
An anesthesiologist reviewed the accounts of witnesses and prison employees and McGuire's medical records, and the state ultimately determined the execution did not violate the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
"The two drugs used in the McGuire execution had their intended effect and that McGuire did not experience any pain or distress," the report said.
"The massive doses of drugs given to McGuire rendered him unconscious before any of the irregular bodily movements were observed.
"The bodily movements that were observed were consistent with the effects of the drugs, his obesity and other body characteristics, and involuntary muscle contractions associated with the ending of respiratory function.
"There is no evidence that McGuire experienced any pain, distress or anxiety."
Nevertheless, the agency said it will increase dosages of midazolam and hydromorphone in future executions to ensure that the drugs work as intended.
Jon Paul Rion, who represents McGuire's family, said the change to the protocol was a "tacit" admission that the execution did not unfold as planned.
He said the report did not even address some of McGuire's movements reported by witnesses, such as the clenching of his fist and the arching of his back.
"The physical evidence supports there was conscious pain in this case," Rion said.
Ohio had postponed one other execution while the state review was underway. McGuire's case has also been cited in legal challenges to lethal injections in other states.
The next scheduled execution in Ohio is May 28, when Arthur Tyler, who was convicted in a fatal robbery, is due to receive the revised injection.
"We are shocked that the Ohio DRC has chosen to once again experiment with yet another new, untested execution protocol," said McGuire's lawyer, Allen Bohnert, calling for a moratorium on executions until the courts can evaluate the new dosage.
First published April 28 2014, 1:58 PM