COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio plans to resume executions in January with a new three-drug combination after an unofficial three-year moratorium blamed on shortages of lethal drugs, an attorney representing the state told a federal judge Monday.
Thomas Madden with the Ohio attorney general's office said the state will use the drugs midazolam, which puts the inmate to sleep; rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. He said the drugs are not compounded and are FDA approved.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of such a combination in a ruling last year regarding Oklahoma's execution protocols.
Madden told Columbus federal Judge Edmund Sargus that a new execution policy will be announced at the end of the week. The Associated Press was the only media outlet present at the court hearing.
Attorneys representing death row inmates say they'll file a new challenge almost immediately.
The development opens the way for the Jan. 12 execution of Ronald Phillips for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993. The state also plans to carry out executions on Feb. 15 and March 15.
Ohio hasn't put anyone to death since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried two-drug combo.
The state also used midazolam in McGuire's execution, making it disappointing that Ohio would again turn to that drug, said Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender representing several death row inmates.
"Following the McGuire execution debacle, they very deliberately and specifically refused to use midazolam any longer for an execution," Bohnert said.
Madden and other state attorneys declined to comment. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction did not immediately respond to a request for the origin of the drugs. The agency said it plans to proceed with the Phillips execution after filing the new execution protocol with the judge.
Ohioans To Stop Executions, the state's largest anti-death penalty group, criticized the announcement, saying recommendations from a state Supreme Court committee that studied the death penalty should be put into place first to ensure fairness in the system.
Ohio and other states have struggled to find legal supplies of execution drugs.
The state has more than two dozen inmates with firm execution dates sitting on death row, with executions scheduled out as far as October 2019.
After McGuire's execution, the longest ever in Ohio using lethal drugs, the prisons agency changed its policies to allow for single doses of two alternative drugs. Complicating matters, neither of those drugs — sodium thiopental and pentobarbital — is available in the United States after their manufacturers put them off-limits for executions.
The state has unsuccessfully tried to find compounded or specially mixed versions.
Last year, Republican Gov. John Kasich ruled out looking for alternative methods, such as the firing squad or hanging.
In 2014, Kasich signed a bill into law shielding the names of companies that provide the state with lethal injection drugs.
Supporters said such confidentiality is necessary to obtain supplies of the drugs, and the measure is needed to restart Ohio executions. Opponents said it was naive to think the bill could truly protect companies' names from being revealed.
In 2014, former federal Judge Gregory Frost sided with the state, saying the prisons agency's need to obtain the drugs outweighed concerns by death row inmates that the information was needed to meaningfully challenge the source of the drugs.