In a reversal of policy, Ohio is reinstating the death penalty, beginning in 2017. The announcement came on October 3, and is an about face based on new protocols for the administration of lethal injections.
Ohio had suspended the use of Lethal injections due to critical shortages of the drugs used in the procedure. Now, as the state has updated its execution protocols, it will begin executing inmates early next year.
The state notified US District Court Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus that it had reworked its execution procedure to utilize a different combination of drugs similar to one used in the execution of prisoners in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma combination has met with approval from the US Supreme Court who ruled that it does not meet the Constitutional definition of cruel and unusual punishment.
The last execution in Ohio took place in 2014, when convicted rapist and killer Dennis McGuire was put to death by lethal injection. In that incident, state officials used a prototype two drug cocktail of drugs to execute him. The procedure lasted 20 minutes and was largely considered to be a failure. The execution was the basis for Ohio’s suspension of the practice.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections spokesperson JoEllen Smith said “After filing the updated policy with Judge Sargus, DRC will proceed with the scheduled execution of Ronald Phillips in January 2017. Phillips was convicted and sentenced to death in Summit County for the 1993 brutal rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl.”
The new combination of three separate drugs, midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride, are all individually approved by the FDA and are supplied directly from the manufacturers instead of a pharmacy. Ohio is not legally obliged to disclose the producers of the drugs, and has so far declined to do so.
The reinstatement of the death penalty in Ohio is a controversial move and has been met with disappointment for human rights activists who see it as a major step backwards. A number of lawyers and advocates have brought the safety and efficacy of one of the drugs, midazolam, into question.
In a joint statement, Federal public defender Allen Bohnert and Phillips’ lawyer Tim Sweeney said:
“Medical experts have said that using midazolam will not reduce the substantial risk that Ohio will subject an inmate to an unconstitutional, agonizing execution. The state’s decision to ignore the experts is deeply troubling, particularly since the last time Ohio ignored the experts, it botched Mr. McGuire’s execution and suffocated him to death.”
The entire issue of the practice of lethal injection as a humane means to terminate a prisoner’s life first arose in 2011 when the sole US manufacturer of the drug sodium thiopental, Hospira Inc., announced they would no longer produce the anesthetic. Since then, it has been virtually impossible to procure this staple of executions due to the fact that the other producers are located in countries that have banned capital punishment, and refuse to distribute it here in the US for use in lethal injections.
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