The 16 minutes it took Christopher Newton to die once chemicals began flowing into his veins was the longest stretch that any of the state’s inmates executed since 1999 has endured, an Associated Press review shows.
During that span Thursday — more than twice as long as usual, and 5 minutes longer than the state’s previous longest on record — Newton’s stomach heaved, his chin quivered and twitched, and his 6-foot, 265-pound body twice mildly convulsed within the restraints.
State prison records show that other Ohio inmates died within an average of 7 minutes, 30 seconds, and that the entire process typically takes about 20 minutes. The state did not compile that information for two inmates.
The execution team at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville stuck Newton at least 10 times with needles to find suitable veins for the shunts where the chemicals are injected. He died nearly two hours after the scheduled start of his execution.
‘The whole thing seems agonizing’
Newton’s unusual amount of movement and the time it took him to die raised new questions Friday among death penalty critics already alarmed by the problems that delayed his execution.
“It seems too long,” Ohio State University surgeon Jonathan Groner said. “The whole thing seems agonizing.”
Newton had insisted on the death penalty as punishment for choking and beating Jason Brewer, 27, his cellmate at the Mansfield Correctional Center, over a chess game in 2001.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio asked the state Thursday to halt executions, but prison officials said Friday that Newton’s execution was properly handled and considered successful. They planned no investigation or autopsy.
The second of three drugs should have paralyzed Newton rather than allowing the five minutes of movement witnesses to his execution could observe, Groner said.
“That would suggest that the second drug of the three-drug protocol was not being effective,” he said. “It’s rapidly effective within 90 seconds. It paralyzes the muscles and stops the lungs.”
Groner said the two minutes between the warden’s signal to start the chemicals and Newton appearing to lose consciousness, and the total time that elapsed before his death, also suggest that the chemicals may not have been flowing properly, or in the proper doses.
Inmate’s size may have been a factor
State prisons officials blocked out the doses of sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in records provided Friday to the AP. Andrea Dean, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said that she did not know whether doses are modified based on an inmate’s weight and that only the execution team knows dosage amounts.
Newton’s obesity explains the difficulty in accessing his veins and the motion visible in the execution chamber, Dean said.
“When Newton got to Lucasville, he told us himself that his veins sat really deep. We did checks and we saw veins,” said Dean, who was present during the execution. “He was thick, and his veins sat deep.”
Dean said rules put in place after the botched execution of Joseph Clark last May, in which Clark sat up on the table to tell his executioners the process wasn’t working, give prison employees the ability to slow down and do a professional job.
“The team took as much time as needed to find good veins,” she said. “In our mind, the process worked. There was no artificial time line to hurry up and find veins.”
Carrie Davis, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, said her group is gathering information on the execution and considering legal action.
In Florida, after an unusually long delay in the Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, 55, then-Gov. Jeb Bush created an 11-member panel to find out what had caused his death to take 34 minutes — twice as long as usual — and to recommend steps to prevent future delays that were similar. That panel has completed its work, and current Gov. Charlie Crist has allowed executions to resume.