Federal public defender Allen Bohnert talks about the execution of his client, death row inmate Dennis McGuire, by a never-tried lethal drug process(AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A convicted killer took 26 minutes to die during an execution in which he gasped repeatedly — the longest execution in Ohio since the state resumed capital punishment 15 years ago, records show.
The case has led to cries of cruel and unusual punishment and demands for a moratorium on executions in Ohio.
The timeline of Dennis McGuire's death indicates he began receiving Ohio's never-before-tried combination of lethal drugs at 10:27 a.m. Thursday and was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m.
The next-longest execution was the 22 minutes it took killer Reginald Brooks to die in 2011, according to an Associated Press analysis of the timelines of the 53 Ohio executions since 1999. Brooks received a lethal dose of a different drug.
McGuire, 53, was put to death for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant newlywed, Joy Stewart. He was executed with doses of a sedative and painkiller that had never been used before to put an inmate to death in the U.S.
He gasped, made snorting sounds and repeatedly opened and shut his mouth during the execution.
Most inmates over the past 15 years took 15 minutes or less to die, the records show. In years when Ohio's lethal injection mix consisted of three drugs, many inmates died in less than 10 minutes, according to the records. Also, executions under the old method did not cause the kind of sounds McGuire made.
Ohio's prison system, which is reviewing the execution, declined to comment on the amount of time it took McGuire to die.
McGuire's unusually slow execution amounted to torture, the man's adult children said Friday as they announced plans to sue over his death.
"I don't feel like anybody deserves that — families, or my dad, anybody on death row — nobody deserves to go through that," said McGuire's son, also named Dennis.
McGuire's daughter, Amber McGuire, said she was so horrified that she covered her ears so she wouldn't hear the sounds he made.
The execution violated McGuire's constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, said attorney Jon Paul Rion, representing McGuire's children. He called it unquestionably cruel.
"The question is whether or not the state of Ohio should duplicate the actions of a criminal. And our answer is no," Rion said. "If we are going to condemn the actions of a person as being wrong because it creates pain, because it creates victims, because it creates an injustice, because it deprives people of life unjustly, then the state of Ohio should not duplicate those actions."
It's almost certain lawyers will use McGuire's execution to challenge Ohio's plans to put a condemned Cleveland-area killer to death in March.
Prison officials gave McGuire intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. The method was adopted after supplies of a previously used drug dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment.
McGuire's lawyers had attempted last week to block his execution, warning that the untried method could lead to a medical phenomenon known as "air hunger" and could cause him to suffer "agony and terror" while struggling to catch his breath.
An attorney for the state of Ohio argued that while the U.S. Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, "you're not entitled to a pain-free execution."
U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost sided with the state. But at the request of McGuire's lawyers, he ordered officials to photograph and preserve the drug vials, packaging and syringes.
After McGuire was put to death, his attorney called on Republican Gov. John Kasich to impose a moratorium on executions, as did a state anti-death penalty group.
The execution is also likely to echo across the country as other states contemplate new drug methods, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
"Judges will now realize that the warnings being raised about these untried procedures are not just false alarms," he said in an email. "States will now have more of a burden to show that they are using a well-thought-out best practice."