Gov. Mike DeWine says he will not allow any execution in Ohio until the state comes up with a new way to carry them out.
Earlier this year, DeWine delayed an execution and ordered the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to come up with a new method to execute those who have been sentenced to death.
Ohio has been struggling for years to find a legal and effective way to carry out the death penalty. Five years ago witnesses described watching convicted killer Dennis McGuire chocking and gasping in the death chamber. It took more than 25 minutes for the drugs to kill him.
Ohio has executed three more people since then using a three-drug cocktail that includes midazolam.
“It’s a sedative,” federal public defender David Stebbins explained. “Basically what it does is it knocks the person out, but being knocked out is not the same as being unable to feel pain.”
Critics say midazolam in heavy doses can lead to a sensation of drowning.
Ohio’s lethal injection procedure also calls for a paralytic drug followed by what opponents say could be an extremely painful injection of potassium chloride to stop the heart.
A federal magistrate found that Ohio’s drug combination would subject the prisoner to severe pain and needless suffering. That decision has many searching for alternatives to use.
Last summer, Nebraska became the first state to use the powerful opioid painkiller fentanyl in an execution, but Stebbins doesn’t think Ohio will move in that direction.
“I think the manufacturers of fentanyl are again opposed to the use in executions,” he said. He went on to explain how drug companies have a right to restrict the use of drugs and are generally opposed to using them to carry out death sentences.
State officials won’t say whether they are considering using the drug for future executions, but DeWine says something has to change.
“Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment,” he said.