LUCASVILLE, Ohio – A condemned man appeared to gasp several times and took an unusually long time to die – more than 20 minutes – in an execution carried out Thursday with a combination of drugs never before tried in the U.S.
Dennis McGuire’s attorney Allen Bohnert called the convicted killer’s death “a failed, agonizing experiment” and added: “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names.”
An attorney for McGuire’s family said it plans to sue the state over what happened.
McGuire’s lawyers had attempted last week to block his execution, arguing that the untried method could lead to a medical phenomenon known as “air hunger” and could cause him to suffer “agony and terror” while struggling to catch his breath.
McGuire, 53, made loud snorting noises during one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Nearly 25 minutes passed between the time the lethal drugs began flowing and McGuire was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m.
Executions under the old method were typically much shorter and did not cause the kind of sounds McGuire made.
Ohio prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith had no comment on how the execution went but said a review will be conducted as usual.
The agency didn’t release a timeline of McGuire’s execution, breaking with the usual practice of providing it the same day, and said it was being reviewed and likely would be available Friday.
Prison officials gave intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put McGuire to death for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant newlywed, Joy Stewart.
The method was adopted after supplies of a previously used drug, the powerful sedative pentobarbital, dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment.
The execution is certain to launch a new round of federal lawsuits over Ohio’s injection procedure. The state has five more executions scheduled this year, with the next one Feb. 19.
States will try at all costs to find supplies of pentobarbital because courts likely will demand more proof of any new drugs’ reliability, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
“Judges will now realize that the warnings being raised about these untried procedures are not just false alarms,” he said in an email.
McGuire’s attorney called on Republican Gov. John Kasich to impose a moratorium on executions, as did a state death penalty opponent group.