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Ohio obtains hundreds of vials of lethal injection drugs so executions can continue

Drugmakers have, by and large, put their drugs off-limits for executions.

Dennis McGuire, executed in January 2014 for the 1989 rape and stabbing death of a pregnant woman
Dennis McGuire, executed in January 2014 for the 1989 rape and stabbing death of a pregnant woman
Image: AP

OHIO HAS OBTAINED hundreds of vials of lethal injection drugs, allowing it to put a condemned child killer to death next month and conduct multiple executions after it.

Inventory logs obtained through a public records request show the state received supplies three times in September and October for the first drug used in the process, a sedative called midazolam that’s been at the centre of several lawsuits over lethal injections.

The records show the state obtained supplies twice in September and October for the second drug used in the process and three times in September for the third drug.

Ohio and other states have struggled to find legal supplies of execution drugs.

The state has said the drugs it plans to use on the first three executions this year are standard drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), though it won’t say where they came from.

Attorneys for death row inmates have raised concerns the state may have to resort to drugs from compounding pharmacies, which produce specialty batches and aren’t subject to the same type of federal regulation as FDA-approved drugs.

Attorneys have been unable to identify the suppliers or producers because of a 2015 law and because recent federal court rulings bar them from obtaining the information through usual evidence channels.

The logs show the state could conceivably carry out dozens of executions with these supplies. What’s unclear is the drugs’ expiration dates — information not provided in the logs — which could control whether they’re available for future executions.

JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio prisons agency, declined to comment.

The state plans to execute Ronald Phillips on 15 February for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter in Akron. Seven other executions are also scheduled for this year.

Drugmakers 

Drugmakers have, by and large, put their drugs off-limits for executions. Last year, Pfizer put seven drugs off-limits, including the three drugs used by Ohio. However, drugs like midazolam are widespread, found everywhere from dental offices to veterinary clinics, making it difficult to trace the origin.

Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during the 26 minutes it took him to die, the longest execution since the state resumed putting prisoners to death in 1999.

The state used a two-drug method with McGuire, starting with midazolam, its first use for executions in the country.

Attorneys challenging Ohio’s new three-drug method say midazolam is unlikely to relieve an inmate’s pain. The drug, which is meant to sedate inmates, was also used in a problematic 2014 execution in Arizona. But last year, the US Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in a case in Oklahoma.

The state says the method is similar to Ohio’s past execution process, which survived court challenges. State attorneys also say the Supreme Court ruling last year makes it clear that the use of midazolam is allowable.

A trial challenging the state’s execution method was wrapping up today in federal court in Dayton. Testifying for the state last week, a member of the execution team that put McGuire to death said he was puzzled by McGuire’s reaction and “was wondering what was going on”.

Another execution team member testified he didn’t believe McGuire suffered.

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Associated Press

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