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Controversy builds over execution of Dennis McGuire

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) is a maximum security prison located in Lucasville and is the center of controversy over a new execution method after a prisoner's execution appears to go wrong after officials used a combination of drugs never before tried in the United States.

Ohio officials used intravenous mixture of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to execute McGuire for the 1989 rape and murder of Joy Stewart, a 7-month pregnant woman.

The previous lethal drug manufacturer refused to market the drugs any longer for capital punishment. Inmate Dennis McGuire took five times longer to die than the average execution and during his 26 minute execution on Jan. 16, he could be seen writhing in pain and struggling for air.

Prison execution guards filed incident reports saying he faked symptoms of suffocation and was coached by his lawyer on how to put on a 'big show'. The purpose of faking symptoms of suffocation is intended to stop further executions of this type.

The Stewart family had shared a letter to McGuire and he thanked them for their “kind words” before he died and he said, “I'm going to heaven, I'll see you there when you come.”

McGuire's adult children cried several feet away in a witness room at the state death house where the execution took place. McGuire opened and shut his left hand as if waving to his daughter, son and daughter-in-law. Over a minute later he raised himself up, looked at his family and said, "I love you. I love you."

McGuire remained quiet for nearly five minutes, and then snorting and gasping for air for about 15 minutes. He also silently opened and shut his mouth several times as his stomach rose and fell.

"Oh my God," his daughter, Amber McGuire, sobbed as she watched her father's final moments. Coughing was the final sound and movement from McGuire, at 10:43 a.m. His death was pronounced 10 minutes later.

State attorneys had argued prior to the execution that McGuire would experience terror as he was put to death with the new lethal drugs. A federal judge agreed with the state but confirmed the new method was an experiment. Following the execution, federal public defender Allen Bohnert said McGuire's death is "a failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio."

"The court's concerns expressed earlier this week have been confirmed," said Bohnert. "And more importantly, the people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names."

Dennis McGuire's family filed a lawsuit for cruel and unusual punishment following the execution. The lawsuit is not a monetary but an injunction to end this particular method of execution. The family is not asking, nor will they receive, any money from this lawsuit. The Stewart family and others feel the execution served as proper punishment for crimes against Joy Stewart and her unborn child.

Officials are investigating accusations that McGuire faked suffocation after prison incident reports state that the inmate was coached by his lawyer. Rob Lowe, the accused attorney was suspended but reinstated later this week when investigators could not prove the attorney coached McGuire into unduly dramatize his suffering.

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