Ohio Gov. John Kasich postponed eight executions on Friday, two weeks after a federal judge ruled that the state's lethal injection method might be too painful to be legal.
Ohio hasn't been able to put an inmate to death for three years and revealed in court papers last week that it attempted but failed to buy alternate drugs from seven other states in an effort to jump-start executions.
A federal appeals court will decide whether a three-drug cocktail that includes the controversial sedative midazolam can be used to kill death-row prisoners, but the panel isn't expected to rule for weeks.
In response, Kasich pushed back a slate of scheduled executions, but said in a statement that he's confident the state will ultimately prevail based on an earlier ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on an Oklahoma execution.
Midazolam has been at the center of several executions across the nation that did not unfold as planned, beginning with Ohio's 2014 lethal injection of Dennis McGuire, who appeared to gasp and snort while taking 25 minutes to die.
Critics say it doesn't render an inmate deeply unconscious, raising the possibility they could face excruciating pain from the drugs that follow, which halt breathing and stop the heart — in violation of the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
But states that use midazolam have been unable to obtain less problematic chemicals, largely because pharmaceutical companies have stopped selling them to prisons to avoid being the tools of death.
In its appeal papers, Ohio said it had asked corrections departments in Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, and Florida to share their pentobarbital "but was rebuffed."
Ohio says it asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to let it import pentobarbital from a foreign manufacturer but the request is still pending, and officials admit they are not even sure they could find a supply if the feds allowed it.