Judge: Ohio must change lethal injection drugs


ELYRIA, Ohio – Ohio’s method of putting prisoners to death is unconstitutional because two of three drugs it uses for lethal injection can cause “an agonizing and painful death,” a county judge ruled Tuesday.

Ohio must stop using its three-drug combination and instead use a single, anesthetic drug to execute its condemned prisoners, because the current lethal injection process doesn’t provide the quick and painless death required by Ohio law, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge said.

Burge ruled in favor of Ruben Rivera and Ronald McCloud, who are awaiting trial in separate murders cases and could receive death sentences if convicted.

Jeffrey Gamso, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented the two men, predicted death row inmates will “breathe a bit of a sigh of relief because they would rather, if they are going to be killed, they would rather not be tortured to death.”

State officials were reviewing the decision and had not determined if they would appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, said Jim Gravelle, a spokesman for the state attorney general.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court turned back a constitutional challenge to the lethal injection procedure in Kentucky, which uses the same three drugs as Ohio. The high court ruled that Kentucky’s procedure didn’t constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Ohio’s lethal injection procedure is similar to Kentucky’s, but not identical. Burge’s ruling also specifically took into account Ohio law, which requires the death penalty to be painless.

In the Ohio case, two anesthesiologists testified that one drug – sodium thiopental – would be enough to kill and that the other two increase the risk of suffering.

Gamso had argued the state could reduce that risk if it used only sodium thiopental and eliminated the other two drugs – pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Burge wrote in his ruling that the two drugs create “an unnecessary and arbitrary risk that the condemned will experience an agonizing and painful death.”

Ohio has executed 26 inmates since it resumed putting prisoners to death in 1999.


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