Tomorrow Ohio Plans to Restart Executions With Drugs Known to Torture

Update: The state of Ohio executed Ronald Phillips at 10:43 AM ET on July 26, 2017.

After a three-and-a-half year moratorium, Ohio is poised to start executions again with the killing of Ronald Phillips by lethal injection on July 26. It will also mark the beginning of 27 planned executions that will make Ohio one of the most active capital punishment states north of Texas. But Gov. John Kasich can stop this execution spree before it starts.

And here’s a quick reminder of why that’s the only moral course for the governor.

Executions have been halted for more than three years because of the horribly botched execution of Dennis McGuire in January 2014, when witnesses described him appearing in pain, gasping for air, and groaning during the prolonged lethal injection process. Many experts said that situation was the result of using an untested and unproven drug, midazolam. After McGuire’s execution, the state passed a secrecy law so the public cannot know the manufacturer of the drug.

Now Ohio is expected to use the very same drug in the execution of Ronald Phillips, a decision that has led to protests from pharmacologists. In a friend of the court brief, the doctors wrote that midazolam is “unsuitable” for execution “because it is incapable of inducing unconsciousness and cannot prevent the infliction of severe pain.”

If Ohio resumes executions, the likelihood of another botched execution or the killing of an innocent person is high.

Even before McGuire’s execution, Ohio’s record on lethal injection has been appalling. In between May 2006 and September 2009, the state botched the executions of James Clark, Jr., Christopher Newton, and Romell Broom. After each case, the state promised to devise a new process, only to fail again and again. This experience only illustrates that there is no humane way to carry out the death penalty. At the very least, Gov. Kasich should halt executions until the courts have fully reviewed the new drug protocol.

Beyond lethal injections, there are plenty of other reasons to oppose Ohio’s return to executions. Nine people have been exonerated from the state’s death row, and there remains a significant question of how many more innocent people may be facing execution. In 2007, the American Bar Association reviewed Ohio’s death penalty and found that the state failed to meet 93 percent of the basic measures of fairness. Judicial leaders were so concerned about these problems that in 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor created a task force to address these issues. Eventually, the group issued 56 recommendations to improve fairness and help prevent wrongful convictions, but the state legislature has failed to pass nearly all of the reforms.

During his first term in office, Gov. Kasich used his clemency powers to commute five death sentences to life in prison, citing uncertainty about a defendant’s claim of innocence or mental condition. His predecessor, Gov. Ted Strickland, also commuted five death sentences to life in prison because of similar concerns.

Many people are speaking out against Ohio’s death penalty. Family members of murder victims, religious leaders, and corrections officials have all talked about the damage capital punishment does to our society. Several conservative former political leaders, who oversaw executions, have also come out against the death penalty, including Attorney General Jim Petro, Gov. Bob Taft, and State Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeiffer.

If Ohio decides to start executions at this pace, it will be in stark contrast to the rest of the country at a time when death sentences and executions are both at historic lows. Nineteen states have abolished the death penalty altogether while another four states have moratoriums issued by their governors.

If Ohio resumes executions, the likelihood of another botched execution or the killing of an innocent person is high. Given all the problems the state has had, Gov. Kasich should stop the execution of Ronald Phillips and take the lead to impose a permanent moratorium on executions in Ohio.

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John

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Tito

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Anonymous

That son of a bitch that raped and murdered a three-year-old deserves to have an agonizing death ! I hope it hurts like hell !!!

Anonymous

Absolutely agree!

Scott

"Drugs known to torture." Kind of like the 3 year old girl he raped, sodomized, and tortured? The one left for dead? And yet here he is, cared for by the state for years while this innocent little girl died having lived the end of her short life in misery, probably having no idea why this was happening to her.

You want me to feel bad because this person may suffer during his execution? I hope that the drugs fail miserably. I hope this is the worst execution the State of Ohio ever performs. I hope the agony this man feels is beyond anything ever experienced by someone being executed. It still won't be enough.

Don't like what I have to say, snowflakes? Read the case description. See what this guy did.

http://law.justia.com/cases/ohio/supreme-court-of-ohio/1995/1995-ohio-17...

Enjoy the part about the intense pain and suffering that this little girl went through before she died. I'm sure that doesn't matter to you.

Anonymous

Right on!

Liberals are insane

Justice was served this morning.

Andy

Who cares if they suffer while being executed they need to feel the pain they caused to family and friends of the victim

Harry Riley

A bullet is cheaper and quicker

LawProf John Banzhaf

Ohio has scheduled an execution this morning with an experimental mix of drugs which reportedly caused long and excruciating deaths during other executions, and which lawyers in many cases are claiming causes unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, but there may be a simple alternative which would end the problems, and the legal challenges to lethal injections.
The simple answer, and alternative to injecting drugs for executions, with the many challenges this method faces, is putting the condemned on the pill.
Since most of the concerns of using drugs for capital punishment involve problems - including artificial scarcity and expiration dates - with drugs which are injected, an obvious alternative for meeting any constitutional problems would be for states to simply use pills rather than injections to administer drugs such as barbiturates whose lethal properties are well controlled, well known, and very clearly established.
Providing a condemned man with barbiturate pills to cause a quick and painless death - as in ‘death with dignity’ jurisdictions - is well tested, established, and accepted, does not require any trained personnel, and could avoid the many medical and other problems with injections, as well as restrictions on injectable drugs imposed by many manufacturers because of ethical and moral concerns.
Barbiturate pills are approved for certain medical uses, and are even covered by Medicare Part D. So the common and generally accepted practice of prescribing drugs for "off-label use" - using a drug approved for one purpose to do something else - would seemingly permit states to use barbiturate pills in executions, and allow them to be imported from abroad if necessary. Arizona just approved the use of barbiturates for executions, but only if injected.
However, in six states - California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington - physicians are permitted to prescribe pills so that terminal patients can have death with dignity, and the pills for this purpose are readily available and do not expire quickly as injectable drugs often do.
If this method is appropriate for totally innocent and often frail elderly people seeking a quick and painless death with dignity, it should be more than good enough for murderers.
If the prisoner refuses to take the pills and/or cannot be forced to, or only pretends to swallow them, he can hardly complain about unconstitutional "cruel and unusual punishment" if the state thereafter has no choice but to use lethal injections, with all the possible risks involved. To paraphrase an old legal saying, the condemned had the key to his own freedom from pain in his own hands.
Since only a few grams of certain barbiturates are necessary to cause death, and pills are apparently much harder for drug companies to restrict than liquid injectable drugs, the amount necessary to cause a quick and painless death might be administered in several easy-to-swallow pills.
Likewise, since oral administration takes much longer for the drugs to reach the system than injections, and works far more slowly, this method of capital punishment is much less likely to trigger the sudden and sometimes violent reactions lethal injections have sometimes been said to cause.
Using well-known, more readily available pills rather than injections for executions might mute many constitutional objections, avoid the major problems with lethal injections highlighted by death penalty opponents, eliminate the need for medically trained personnel (who often refuse on ethical and/or professional grounds) to participate in executions, and have many other advantages.

PUBLIC INTEREST LAW PROFESSOR JOHN BANZHAF

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