Ohio said Monday it's boosting the dosages of its lethal injection drugs even as it stands by the January execution of an inmate who made snorting and gasping sounds that led to a civil rights lawsuit by his family and calls for a moratorium.
The state's new policy considerably increases the amount of the sedative used in its two-drug combination and raises the amount of the painkiller, which are injected simultaneously, according to a court filing. The state said it was making the changes "to allay any remaining concerns" after the last execution.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said its review of the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire determined he was asleep and unconscious a few minutes after the drugs were administered and his execution was conducted in a constitutional manner.
Lawyers challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's two-drug method, the only such procedure in the country, also criticized the report.
The state's execution policy calls for it to use a specialty dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital, made by non-federally regulated pharmacies, as its first choice. If that can't be obtained, as has happened twice, it goes to a backup method of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction report is available in Adobe .pdf format, via the Columbus Dispatch.
The Toledo Blade reports, "Ohio to keep execution drugs, but raise dosages," by Jim Provance.
The state of Ohio on Monday insisted the process used to execute Dennis McGuire four months ago was “humane and constitutional,” but it nevertheless plans to increase the dosage of its unique two-drug regimen for future executions.
Starting with the next lethal injection set for Arthur Tyler of Cuyahoga County on May 28, the intravenous dosage of midazolam, a sedative, will be increased five times while the dose of hydromorphone, a potent painkiller, will be increased by 20 percent, both to 50 milligrams.
Jon Paul Rion, a Dayton attorney representing the McGuire family, said the review’s findings alter nothing with the lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court.
“The report clearly ignores the clear physical data presented in this case,” Mr. Rion said. “McGuire was clenching his fists, arching his back, and gasping for air, and none of that information is in the report. … Arching of the back and clenching of fists are clearly indications of consciousness.
“One of the most incredible parts of the state’s action in McGuire’s case is they used a human as an experiment.”
"Ohio Ups Lethal-Injection Dosages After Controversial Execution," is by Josh Sanburn for Time.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) announced on Monday it would increase the dosage of sedative midazolam from 10 mg to 50 mg while upping the dosage of hydromorphone, which is used to stop one’s breathing, from 40 mg to 50 mg. The change follows the January execution of Dennis McGuire, who reportedly made snorting and snoring noises during the 25-minute process.
But even though DRC said it would alter its lethal-injection cocktail, the review determined that McGuire’s execution was “conducted in a constitutional manner” consistent with state policy after speaking with prison officials, family members and media representatives who witnessed the execution.
“DRC remains confident that its current drug regimen is sufficient to conduct a humane and constitutional execution, but also sees no reason not to increase the dosage levels to reaffirm that the drugs will, without doubt, cause profound general anesthetic and ventilatory-depressant effects,” the report says.
David Lubarsky, a University of Miami anesthesiologist who studies lethal injection, says the change in dosage is an admission that the McGuire execution did not go as planned.
“This is just proof that they don’t know what they’re doing,” Lubarsky says. “What states like Ohio are doing has never been vetted, never been tested.”
"Inmate did not experience pain during execution, report says," is by Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch.
The condemned man’s attorneys warned in advance that using the two drugs might result in “air hunger” as his body struggled in the final death gasps. State officials dismissed that claim at the time and in yesterday’s report.
The state switched to the two drugs for intravenous injection for McGuire’s execution because pentobarbital, the single drug used before, is no longer available because manufacturers will not sell it for use in executions. There have been numerous other changes in the past few years, mostly because of drug shortages.
Ohioans to Stop Executions issued a statement in response to the state report.
“Changing the execution protocol seven times in five years shows the inability of the death-penalty system to function at the most basic level,” said Kevin Werner, executive director. “ These types of problems are precisely why the Supreme Court and State Bar Association made more than 50 recommendations to improve the death-penalty system.”
NPR posts, "Ohio Will Increase Dosage Of Drugs In Lethal Injection," by Eyder Peralta.
Allen L. Bohnert, the assistant federal public defender who represented Dennis McGuire, said he was "shocked" that Ohio was experimenting with a "another new, untested execution protocol," especially because the next execution is scheduled for May.
"The courts must be allowed sufficient time to consider this new experimental execution method, especially when ODRC's assurances to the courts the last time were not accurate. There should be no further executions at least until the courts have had a fair opportunity to assess this latest intended experiment.
"We are also very concerned that the official report of the 'investigation' into the execution of Dennis McGuire does not appear to fit with accounts of the execution provided by witnesses that are not employed by ODRC. It is difficult to reconcile the vivid descriptions of how Dennis McGuire was killed that were provided by media and other non-ODRC employees with the sanitized version offered in the official ODRC report. The truth of the matter is that everything our expert, Dr. Waisel, testified would happen to McGuire did, in fact, occur, except that McGuire suffocated to death for much longer than 5 minutes. The predictions by ODRC's expert, Dr. Dershwitz, on the other hand, were proven wrong, as they have been numerous times before. That ODRC still chooses to rely on advice from Dr. Dershwitz, an expert who has been wrong so frequently, further undermines any credibility of the official report."
"Prison officials: Ohio inmate's execution was humane," is by Marc Kovac of the Dix News Capital Bureau, via the Wooten Daily Record.
In a final report issued late Monday afternoon on the two-drug lethal injection of Dennis McGuire, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction determined the inmate's execution "was conducted in a constitutional manner" consistent with state policy.
Officials also said they would increase the dosage of the two drugs used to put Ohio inmates to death.
"After the review, the department remains confident that it conducted the execution in a humane, constitutional way and that the inmate was completely unconscious and felt no pain," prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said in a released statement. "After speaking with the department's medical expert, examining other states' practices and considering the recommendations of the inmate's medical expert, the department finds no harm in increasing the dosage levels of its drugs and has notified Judge Frost of this revision."
Earlier coverage of Dennis McGuire's execution begins at the link. More recent, unrelated, news from Ohio is also available. Ohio officials are also considering clemency for Arthur Tyler, who has the May execution date noted in some articles.