Ohio has scrapped an execution-drug combination used in last year's lethal injection of Dennis McGuire, who appeared to gasp for air during the 26 minutes it took him to die, and is returning to an old protocol. The state said an execution scheduled for next month and possibly others will be delayed while it tries to find the replacement drugs, pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, which are difficult to secure.
No one has been executed in Ohio since Jan. 16, 2014, when McGuire was put to death with midazolam and hydromorphone, a combination it had never used before and turned to only after it ran out of the other drugs. Manufacturers have stopped selling pentobarbital and sodium thiopental for executions, so states have to obtain it from compounding pharmacies.
Ohio recently enacted a law that shrouds the source of drugs in secrecy, inoculating pharmacies from lawsuits and protests. Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposed capital punishment, said he suspects the state found a supplier, but a spokeswoman for the state corrections department told NBC News that "efforts are ongoing."
"We remain confident the execution of Dennis McGuire was carried out in a humane and lawful manner," said the spokeswoman, JoEllen Smith. "Some did raise questions and in response to those questions we changed the policy."
The next death-row prisoner scheduled for execution is Ronald Phillips, who raped and beat to death his girlfriend's 3-year-old. He was supposed to be the first inmate killed with the untested midazolam and hydromorphone, but his date with death was put off after he asked to donate his organs, a request that eventually rejected.
Instead, McGuire went to the gurney ahead of Phillips and his protracted death, along with the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma months later, drew national scrutiny to lethal-injection protocols, which are now under federal review. Lawyers for McGuire and Phillips said they had no immediate comment on the drug switch.
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— Tracy Connor