Inmate Dennis McGuire was put to death by the state of Ohio on Wednesday, and, because of a shortage of the typical drugs used in lethal injections, the state used a never-before-used mix of drugs to kill him. The execution, which took 15 minutes, was one of the longest since Ohio re-instituted the death penalty.
Prior to the execution, attorneys for the state of Ohio assured that McGuire’s execution would not be exceptional — something McGuire’s attorneys disputed. They argued that the man would experience “the agony and terror of” a medical condition called “air hunger as he struggles to breathe for five minutes after defendants intravenously inject him with the execution drugs.”
That seemed to be the case during Wednesday’s execution. McGuire “made several loud snorting or snoring sounds during the more than 15 minutes it appeared to take him to die,” AP reports.
Before being injected, McGuire, who was arrested in 1989 for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman, waved at his children who were in the room and said, “I’m going to heaven, I’ll see you there when you come.”
Pentobarbital, the drug that’s typically used during lethal injection, has been in dwindling supply in the United States over the last couple of years, in large part because of moral opposition by international drug companies and the European Commission. States with the death penalty have either had to delay executions, or turn to new drug cocktails like the one used on McGuire. His execution was carried out with midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. Midazolam was also the drug used on a Florida inmate last year, who the AP noticed took longer to die and moved more than inmates in other executions. Thursday’s execution is the third time in three years Ohio has used untested drugs, after three botched executions between 2006 and 2009, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The argument against using these new drugs hinges on whether or not they violate the Constitution’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment. In the 1990s, California effectively ended its practice of using gas chambers, after a district court ruled the practice of subjecting inmates to “air hunger” was “inhumane” and thus in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“Nearly 25 minutes passed between the time the lethal drugs began flowing and McGuire was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m,” AP reported Friday. McGuire’s family plans to sue the state of Ohio, and lawyers hope that the evidence of how long it took McGuire to die will delay an execution of another Ohio inmate set for next month.