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Death Row misfire casts Kasich as 'Avenger,' ACLU says stop executions

The fallout from an execution last week by Ohio prison officials that didn't go well, when a new concoction of lethal drugs prolonged the life of the Death Row inmate Dennis McGuire, is focusing attention on state officials, especially Gov. John R. Kasich, who the Ohio American Civil Liberties [ACLU] called on to use his executive powers to stop future scheduled executions while also admonishing him and prison officials to stop trying to figure out new ways to kill people.

Death penalty opponent Nancy Haas prays outside the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility shortly before John W. Byrd Jr. was executed February 19, 2002 in Lucasville, OH.
Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images

"Unfortunately, Ohio continues to lead the way in finding new ways to put people to death," said ACLU of Ohio Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner. "With each new execution, we continue to run from the fact that this is a fundamentally broken system."

The group said Ohio "continues to march in the wrong direction" by experimenting with an untested two-drug method developed after supplies of Ohio’s former execution drug expired after the manufacturer of the previous drug used for lethal injections decided to prohibit its use in executions.

Dennis McGuire was convicted in 1994 of the aggravated murder of Joy Stewart in Preble County. He became the first inmate in history to be executed using the untested cocktail of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone for capital punishment.

Prior to his execution, McGuire’s attorneys made several appeals for clemency, arguing that the untested procedure was likely to cause him "agony and terror." Ohio officials replied by declaring that McGuire was not entitled to a "pain-free" execution.

On December 20 of last year the Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended against clemency for McGuire. Gov. Kasich subsequently denied McGuire's request for clemency 38 days later on Jan. 7. The execution took place on January 16 in Lucasville at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

McGuire's execution marked the third time in recent years Ohio has used untested execution drugs. Frequent changes in Ohio’s execution protocols have been the result of three botched executions spanning from 2006-2009 and federal court orders declaring the state’s protocols unconstitutional, the ACLU reported.

Witnesses to the execution described McGuire's ordeal as 20 minutes of gasping for air with clenched fists. The length of the execution was 25 minutes, a time significantly longer than any other execution by the state since the death penalty was reinstated in Ohio in 1999.

The Times Reporter offered its opinion on an execution one observer called "horrific." A humane death is enough to satisfy the demands of justice, it said, adding "anything more takes the state out of the arena of justice and casts it in the role of avenger." It wrote of that difference, "the first seeks a better society, the second only the infliction of harm."

The work "torture" is now being used by McGuire's children, who are suing the state, to describe what their father endured. State prison officials are being challenged to not use this combination of drugs again without justifying such an accusation.

In its letter to Gov. Kasich, the ACLU said evidence now suggests that death sentences have "less to do with the actual offense committed, and more to do with factors such as race, socioeconomic class, and the location of the crime."

Another important voice in the issue who has turned against the system for this very reason is Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeiffer. Carving out a career as a sometimes Maverick justice, Pfeiffer called capital punishment a "death lottery." His superior, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, has formed a death penalty taskforce, which has identified troubling issues such as large racial and geographic disparities in capital convictions and the use of the death penalty on severely mentally ill people.

Bricker worries that the system is broken and risks putting an innocent person to death. "Since the return of the death penalty, six of the nation’s 143 death row exonerations have come from Ohio," he said, adding that responsible parties, like Gov. Kasich and his prison system director Gary Moher, should be reassessing the machinery of death, "not speeding it up."

Ohio ACLU called on Ohio officials "to stop executions once and for all" while criticizing their efforts to "find new ways to kill people and instead focus their efforts on reforming the already overburdened criminal justice system."

There are five more executions scheduled for 2014 in Ohio, all of which could involve the use of the same drug combination that was tested out on McGuire.

The news article Death Row misfire casts Kasich as 'Avenger,' ACLU says stop executions appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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