COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s new lethal injection system is akin to burning inmates at the stake or burying them alive, say federal defense lawyers rushing to stop the state’s first execution in three years.
Ohio’s three-drug method, announced Oct. 3, is worse than a similar procedure used years ago, and multiple problems remain with the way the state prepares and carries out executions, federal public defenders said in a Wednesday court filing.
The filing attacks the first drug in that process — midazolam, meant to sedate inmates — as unlikely to relieve an inmate’s pain. The drug was used in problematic executions in Arizona and Ohio in 2014. But the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the use of midazolam in executions in a case out of Oklahoma.
According to the filing, because midazolam is not a barbiturate and cannot relieve pain, inmates are likely to experience “severe physical pain,” mental suffering and anguish,
As a result, “such an execution would be inhuman and barbarous, akin in its level of pain and suffering to being buried alive, burning at the stake, and other primitive methods long since abandoned by civilized society,” the filing said.
Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when death row inmate Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during the 26 minutes it took him to die. It was the longest execution since Ohio resumed putting inmates to death in 1999.
The state used a 2-drug method with McGuire, beginning with midazolam, but then discontinued it. Afterward, Ohio struggled for years to find new supplies of drugs, which have been placed off limits for executions by drug makers.
Now the prisons agency says it will use midazolam; rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
On Jan. 12, Ohio is scheduled to execute Ronald Phillips for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993. The state also plans to carry out executions on Feb. 15 and March 15.
But the federal defense lawyers say the new procedures are unconstitutional and executions in Ohio should be put on hold.
The state will respond with its own filing, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
In the Supreme Court ruling last year, justices heard arguments about Oklahoma’s proposal to use a massive dose of midazolam — 500 milligrams — the same amount Ohio would use.
An expert for Oklahoma presented persuasive testimony that such a dose virtually ensures inmates would not feel pain from the second and third drugs, wrote Justice Samuel Alito.
“Second, the fact that a low dose of midazolam is not the best drug for maintaining unconsciousness during surgery says little about whether a 500-milligram dose of midazolam is constitutionally adequate for purposes of conducting an execution,” Alito added.