It wasn’t the terrifying, brutal death he inflicted on his 22-year-old victim in 1989, but Dennis McGuire did not go quietly yesterday.
McGuire struggled, made guttural noises, gasped for air and choked for about 10 minutes before succumbing to a new, two-drug execution method at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.
There was no clear indication that the drug combination — never before used in a U.S. execution — triggered McGuire’s death struggles. But Allen Bohnert, one of McGuire’s federal public defenders, called the execution a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.”
The family plans to file a lawsuit over the execution.
“The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what was done in their name,” Bohnert told reporters.
Ohioans to Stop Executions called for an immediate death-penalty moratorium after what it called the “horrific events.”
McGuire’s daughter, Amber; son, Dennis; and daughter-in-law, Missie McGuire, joined arms and sobbed as they watched the execution, separated by glass and just a few feet from the prison’s death chamber.
In the other half of the small witness area, split by a divider, the family of Joy Stewart, McGuire’s victim, watched in silence. Dewite Avery, Stewart’s brother-in-law, read silently from a Bible, then closed it and watched the execution unfold.
Stewart’s family later issued a statement, saying, “There has been a lot of controversy regarding the drugs that are to be used in his execution, concern that he might feel terror, that he might suffer. As I recall the events preceding her death, forcing her from the car, attempting to rape her vaginally, sodomizing her, choking her, stabbing her, I know she suffered terror and pain. He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her.”
McGuire’s death by lethal injection at 10:53 a.m. might have been marked by the “air hunger” that his attorneys predicted in legal moves rejected by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and declined for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“What we suggested to the court did happen,” Bohnert said. He refused to speculate on whether McGuire suffered and would not say if further legal action would be pursued under the U.S. constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Judge Gregory L. Frost of U.S. District Court in Cincinnati has in past cases questioned Ohio’s execution procedures.
“Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct, subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then failing to follow through on its own reforms,” he wrote in a separate case in November.
“The court is not without potential concerns regarding some of the choices that Ohio has apparently made or is contemplating making in its execution plans.”
Such issues could well be revisited before the execution of Gregory Lott, scheduled for March 19. Lott was convicted of attacking and setting fire to an 84-year-old Cleveland man in the victim’s home in 1986.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials had no comment on the execution. “Consistent with our policy, we will conduct an after-action review as we do after every execution,” spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.
Earlier yesterday, prisons Director Gary Mohr expressed confidence that the new drug regimen would result in a “humane, dignified execution consistent with our protocol and federal law.”
McGuire died from an injection of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. The combination was included in the state’s execution policy as far back as 2009 but only as a backup involving intramuscular injection.
The state switched to the two drugs for intravenous injection for McGuire’s execution because pentobarbital, the single drug used before, is no longer available as manufacturers will not sell it for use in executions.
The process began as dozens of executions in Ohio have, with the insertion of IV needles in McGuire’s arms. He then offered a brief, tearful statement: “I’d like to say I’m sorry to Joy’s family and thanks for the letter. The kind words mean a lot.
“To my children, I love you,” he said. “I’m going to heaven. I’ll see you when you get there.”
The chemicals began flowing about 10:29 a.m., and for a while, McGuire was quiet, closing his eyes and turning his face up and away from his family.
However, about 10:34 a.m., he began struggling. His body strained against the restraints around his body, and he repeatedly gasped for air, making snorting and choking sounds for about 10 minutes. His chest and stomach heaved; his left hand, which he had used minutes earlier to wave goodbye to his family, clenched in a fist.
McGuire eventually issued two final, silent gasps and became still. He was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m.
Stewart, of West Alexandria, a small town in Preble County about 20 miles west of Dayton, was 30 weeks pregnant in 1989 when McGuire raped her, choked her and slashed her throat so deeply that it severed both her carotid artery and jugular vein. At some point, her unborn child died, too, probably in the woods near Eaton where her body was found the next day by two hikers. The baby’s name would have been Carl, his mother’s grave marker shows.
Her husband, Kenny, committed suicide within a year after her murder.
Editor’s note: Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson witnessed Dennis McGuire’s execution.
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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