A federal judge ordered a temporary moratorium on Ohio executions while legal issues related to new lethal-injection procedures are worked out in court.
The order, issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost, stops the scheduled July 2 execution of Ronald Phillips of Summit County and the Aug. 6 execution of William Montgomery of Lucas County. Two other executions scheduled later in the year are not affected for the time being, but Frost left his order open-ended.
Frost said an execution can be scheduled no earlier than Aug. 15.
“Naturally, we will comply with Judge Frost’s order,” said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich.
It was the second reprieve for Phillips, 40, who was scheduled to be put to death last Nov. 14 for the 1993 beating, rape and murder of 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, the daughter of his girlfriend at the time. However, Kasich postponed his execution by seven months to give Phillips the opportunity to make good on his desire to donate a kidney to his ailing mother. Time ran out before arrangements could be finalized, and Phillips was scheduled to die on July 2.
Montgomery, 48, murdered two young Lucas County women execution-style.
Ohio is one of many states encountering capital-punishment challenges. Controversy over lethal injections has been widespread since 2009, when European manufacturers either stopped making drugs used in executions or refused to sell them to U.S. distributors. Some states switched drugs, as Ohio did, while others turned to less-regulated “compounding pharmacies” for new sources of drugs.
As a result, lawsuits have been filed nationwide charging that the drugs being used violate the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment.
This week’s delays are repercussions from the troubled Ohio execution of Dennis McGuire on Jan. 16. Witnesses observed McGuire, 53, gasp, choke, clench his fists and appear to struggle against his restraints for 10 minutes after two drugs, midazolam and hydromorphone, were administered before he was pronounced dead at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.
As a result, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced on April 28 that it would use the same drugs, but in higher doses, in future executions. The dosage of midazolam, a sedative, is to be boosted to 50 milligrams from 10 milligrams, and the dosage of hydromorphone, a powerful painkiller, is to be increased to 50 milligrams from 40 milligrams.
In addition, the revised policy calls for having a third syringe ready containing 60 milligrams of hydromorphone; other syringes will be prepared and available “if needed.”
Frost ordered the attorneys representing condemned inmates and the state to “work together to coordinate efforts so that the court can set necessary deadlines following expiration of the stay."
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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