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State Plans To Change Execution Drugs Again - For The Fourth Time In Seven Years

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Ron Corby, OGT
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For the second time in as many years, Ohio plans to change the way it puts condemned killers to death, because the state has been unable to find the lethal injection drug it had wanted to use.

Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney said the announcement came in a routine federal court hearing about the ongoing litigation over Ohio’s death penalty. “Our office stated that we are prepared to file a notice of protocol change on behalf of Ohio DRC. We expect to do that by the end of this week,” Tierney said.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction wouldn’t comment for this story, other than to confirm plans to use a three drug mixture which includes the drug midazolam. That drug was used in 2014 in the state’s last execution, that of Dennis McGuire, who raped and killed Joy Stewart of Preble County in the Dayton area in 1989. McGuire appeared to be gasping and struggling for air in the nearly half hour long execution, the longest on record in Ohio – though a review by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said the execution was done humanely.  If the judge signs off, this would be the fourth change for Ohio’s lethal injection process in the seven years, and the second change in two years.

Prison officials did not confirm if they’ve actually secured a supply of those drugs to resume executions in January. But Tim Young, the Ohio Public Defender, said his office plans to fight the change – noting that this three drug mixture has never been used in Ohio.  “We’ve moved into an area of largely following what other states are doing, and not having enough drugs to actually do this, so we just keep jumping from protocol to protocol to protocol," Young said. "We’re experimenting. And that’s not something you should do on human beings.”

Young says this three drug mix is the same one that was used in two botched executions in Oklahoma.  But the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of this kind of combination in a ruling last year in a case from Oklahoma. Other death penalty critics add that they’re concerned about where the state might be getting the drugs it now wants to use. Kevin Werner is with Ohioans To Stop Executions. “What the state ought to be doing is making sure that it implements recommendations to improve the death penalty system before it gets back into the process of carrying out executions,” Werner said.

Twenty eight execution dates stretching all the way to 2020 have been on hold while the state tried to buy execution drugs or find pharmacies that would make them. The first lethal injection that could take place is set for January 12 for Ronald Phillips of Akron, who raped and murdered his girlfriend’s three year old daughter in 1993.

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