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Federal judge suspends Ohio executions until Aug. 15

Posted Jun 2, 2014 10:55 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A federal judge has suspended the imposition on the death penalty in Ohio for two and a half months, following a lengthy execution in January using a new combination of drugs that did not go as planned.

The Tuesday freeze on executions by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost is intended to give defense attorneys time to pursue objections to Ohio's execution protocol, according to the Christian Science Monitor and Jurist.

The state's execution of Dennis McGuire on January 16 took 26 minutes, as an earlier ABAJournal.com post details. For about 10 minutes of that time, he “struggled, made guttural noises, gasped for air and choked," wrote a Columbus Dispatch reporter who was a witness.

The state subsequently updated its execution protocol in April to increase the dosage of the two drugs that were used on McGuire: the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. However, critics still argued that the combination was untested and, further, because the supplier is unknown, the drugs may or may not be clean and contain the represented strength, the Monitor reports.

Frost had rejected similar arguments when allowing McGuire's execution to go forward.

"There is absolutely no question that Ohio’s current protocol presents an experiment in lethal injection processes,” he wrote in an order (PDF) at that time, adding: “To pretend otherwise, or that either of the experts or this Court truly knows what the outcome of that experiment will be, would be disingenuous.”

Nonetheless, he refused to stay the execution, saying that "the degree of risk that Ohio’s protocol presents is acceptable within the contours of the Constitution."

Afterward, McGuire's lawyer, Allen Bohnert, told the Monitor, "From the reports we are getting, it sounds like everything we suggested to the court would happen did, in fact, happen."

Meanwhile, a joint task force has released a report (PDF) making recommendations on how to make the process of determining who should be eligible for capital punishment more fair. A WOUB article discusses its recommendations.

In a press release Friday, ABA President James R. Silkenat noted that a 2007 Ohio Death Penalty Assessment Report by the ABA had played a role in the assessment by the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio's Death Penalty.

"The ABA takes no stance on the death penalty outright," he noted. "However, the ABA has strong policy advocating that jurisdictions using the death penalty implement it fairly, accurately and with due process."

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Questions are raised about midazolam as an execution drug; dosage ranged from 10 to 500 milligrams"

Associated Press: "Botched U.S. execution may violate international law, UN says "

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