COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio said Monday it's boosting the dosages of its lethal injection drugs even as it stands by the January execution of an inmate who made unusual snorting and gasping sounds that led to a civil rights lawsuit by his family and calls for a moratorium.
The state's new policy considerably increases the amount of the sedative used in its two-drug combination and raises the amount of the painkiller, both of which are injected simultaneously, according to a court filing. The state said it was making the changes "to allay any remaining concerns" after the last execution.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said its review of the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire determined he was asleep and unconscious a few minutes after the drugs were administered.
"He did not experience pain, distress or air hunger after the drugs were administered or when the bodily movements and sounds occurred," the state said. "Therefore, his execution was conducted in a constitutional manner consistent with the policy."
The state's policy change comes 30 days before the next scheduled execution on May 28, when a man convicted of killing a Cleveland produce vendor in 1983 is set to die.
McGuire's 26-minute execution was the longest since Ohio resumed putting inmates to death in 1999.
The long and fitful execution of McGuire with a then-untested combination of chemicals brought cries of cruel and unusual punishment.
A gasping, snorting McGuire took 26 minutes to die after the chemicals began flowing. McGuire's adult children complained it amounted to torture, with the convicted killer's son saying: "Nobody deserves to go through that."
States are in a bind for two main reasons: European companies have cut off supplies of certain execution drugs because of opposition to capital punishment in Europe. And states can't simply switch to other chemicals without triggering legal challenges from defense attorneys.