Ohio executed its first criminal of 2014 on Thursday. After receiving a never-before-used lethal injection, the prisoner, Dennis McGuire, reportedly suffered for at least 10 minutes before his heart stopped, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds that lasted for at least 10 minutes. His chest heaved and his left fist clinched as deep, snorting sounds emanated from his mouth,” the Dispatch wrote.
McGuire — a 53-year-old convicted of raping and killing a pregnant woman in 1989 — died from a combination of the sedative midazolam and a morphine derivation called hydromorphone, the Associated Press reported.
Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction chose these drugs because states can no longer purchase pentobarbital, which has been used in the past. Before McGuire’s execution, some speculated he might die painfully.
“The truth is that no one knows exactly how McGuire will die, how long it will take or what he will experience in the process,” Elisabeth A. Semel, director of the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, wrote in a CNN op-ed.
McGuire’s attorneys argued (unsuccessfully) the new drug combo could cause him pain and “air hunger,” essentially making him struggle for breath, which would violate the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
In the wake of country-wide execution drug shortages, many states have planned to try new, untested lethal injection combinations.
Meanwhile, California and Arkansas have both suspended executions until they can find a replacement for pentobarbital, according to the New York Times.
All 35 states with capital punishment use lethal injection as the primary method of execution. Prisoners, however, can request other options such as electrocution or a firing squad in a small number of states.
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