Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire (53) visibly gasped for air and snorted as it took approximately 25 minutes for him to die under a new lethal injection protocol followed by the state, entailing the use of previously untested drugs.
After procedure set a record for being one of the longest in Ohio’s history since the state reinstituted the capital punishment in 1999, anti-death-penalty campaigners warned that the new execution protocols being used in such cases could be tantamount to ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’
On January 16 Mr. McGuire, on death row for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of Joy Stewart (22) and her unborn child, was administered lethal doses of a sedative, midazolam, and a painkiller, hydromorphone.
After a prosecutor in the case earlier said to Mr. McGuire in court proceedings “You're not entitled to a pain-free execution,” and a judge then allowed the execution to proceed, an eye-witness report from the Columbus Dispatch said that four minutes into the procedure, “McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds which lasted for at least 10 minutes. His chest heaved and his left fist clinched as deep, snorting sounds emanated from his mouth.”
With Ohio's department of corrections revising the official length of the execution upward from 15 to 25 minutes Mr. McGuire’s attorney Allen Bohnert, said to the Guardian that the prisoner was gasping for breath for about 15 minutes, and “At some point… McGuire tried to sit up, turned his head toward his family members who were witnessing, and spoke to them.” One witness reportedly described the scene as “ghastly.”
Later Mr. Bohnert added: “At this point, it is entirely premature to consider this execution protocol to be anything other than a failed, agonising experiment by the state of Ohio. The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in all of our names.”
U.S. correctional facilities have for some years now struggled with dwindling supplies of lethal injection drugs and increasingly turned to new, often untested procedures to carry out executions, including the use of animal euthanasia drugs in some cases.
Following tireless campaigning by anti-death-penalty groups such as the United Kingdom’s Reprieve, pharmaceutical companies agreed to restrict U.S. prisons’ access to their therapeutic drugs for execution purposes.
The 2010 supplies shut-off by Hospira, the sole producer of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental, initially kicked off the shortage spiral faced by correctional facilities.
U.S. prisons in some states such as Nebraska then turned to importing, often without the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulator, from foreign suppliers.
In particular they tried to import from a firm in India called Kayem Pharmaceuticals, which however backed off after The Hindu and other media focused public attention on their involvement in the U.S. execution business.