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Convicted killer snorts and gasps during execution; is society too ‘namby pamby’?

Posted Jan 17, 2014 7:57 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An Ohio inmate who was executed using a new two-drug cocktail on Thursday made snorting and snoring noises during the longer-than-usual process.

A Columbus Dispatch reporter who watched the execution of Dennis McGuire wrote that he “struggled, made guttural noises, gasped for air and choked for about 10 minutes” before dying. The Associated Press reported that McGuire did not move for the first five minutes after the drugs were administered, then there was “a sudden snort and then more than 10 minutes of irregular breathing and gasping.”

Nearly 25 minutes passed between the time the lethal injection started and the inmate was pronounced dead, AP says. But the New York Times says it took 15 minutes for McGuire to die.

McGuire was given the sedative midazolam and the morphine-derivative hydromorphone. Ohio had previously used pentobarbital, the drug used to euthanize animals, but the manufacturer now refuses to allow the drug in executions.

McGuire was convicted of the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a newly married pregnant woman. A federal public defender who represented McGuire, Allen Bohnert, told reporters that “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what was done in their name.” A lawyer for McGuire’s children, Jon Paul Rion, will hold a news conference today to announce a suit alleging cruel and unusual punishment, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

Fordham law professor Deborah Denno told the New York Times that properly done executions usually take four or five minutes. “Whether there were choking sounds or it was just snorting, the execution didn’t go the way it was supposed to go,” she said.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told the Times that McGuire was not in extreme pain because of the sedative. “Some of the witnesses say he was heard to make snoring noises,” Scheidegger said. “OK, I’ve made snoring noises. What’s not disputed is he got a large dose of sedative. We’ve gotten namby-pamby to the point that we give murderers sedatives before we kill them.”

The family of McGuire's victim, Joy Stewart, released a statement prior to the execution. Quoted by the Columbus Dispatch: “There has been a lot of controversy regarding the drugs that are to be used in his execution, concern that he might feel terror, that he might suffer. As I recall the events preceding her death, forcing her from the car, attempting to rape her vaginally, sodomizing her, choking her, stabbing her, I know she suffered terror and pain. He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her.”

Updated at 10:49 a.m. to add the statement from the Stewart family.

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