Ohio prisoner takes nearly half an hour to die in apparently botched, experimental execution

January 16, 2014

An execution carried out today by Ohio, using a new, untested combination of drugs, shows strong signs of having been botched, causing prolonged suffering to the prisoner. 

[UPDATE, 17 January: Ohio’s department of corrections later revised the length of the execution upwards, from 15 minutes to 25 minutes]

According to the Associated Press, it took over a quarter of an hour for Dennis McGuire to die from a lethal injection using a sedative, midazolam, and a painkiller, hydromorphone – the first of its kind anywhere in the world.  The account described it as “one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999.”

Concerns had been raised by experts that the new form of lethal injection could lead to suffering – Harvard anaesthesiologist Dr David Waisel had warned that it could cause the prisoner to experience “the terror of air hunger” for a number of minutes.  Ohio had resorted to the combination of new and untested execution drugs as a result of pharmaceutical companies blocking supplies to executioners of medicines which had previously been used – notably sodium thiopental, which had been used as part of an established three-drug ‘cocktail,’ and subsequently pentobarbital.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve said: “Ohio was warned by leading experts that experimenting on people in this way risked causing them serious suffering, and the evidence suggests that this has been borne out.  How many more botched executions do we need to see before executioners stop using humans as guinea pigs?”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 7791 755 415 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. The Associated Press’ report on the execution can be found here: http://www.local12.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/execution-ohio-killer-took-15-minutes-7307.shtml Dr Waisel’s warning is reported here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2539654/Judge-wont-stop-Ohio-execution-experiment-never-tried-drug-injection-method.html