COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio’s governor refused Tuesday to spare a condemned inmate who raped and killed a pregnant woman nearly 25 years ago and faces execution next month by a method of lethal injection never tried in the U.S.
Gov. John Kasich’s rejection of mercy for death-row inmate Dennis McGuire followed a recommendation last month by the Ohio Parole Board. The governor did not explain his ruling, as is customary when Kasich denies mercy to death-row inmates.
The board voted unanimously against mercy for McGuire, despite arguments by his lawyers that he be spared because of his chaotic and abusive childhood and the failure of his original attorneys to work hard enough on his behalf.
Kasich’s decision came as attorneys trying to stop the execution argued in federal court that McGuire will experience “agony and terror” because of the effect of the new execution method.
The drugs won’t sedate McGuire properly, and he will experience a suffocation-like syndrome known as air hunger, the attorneys said in filings Monday and Tuesday.
They also said McGuire exhibits several symptoms of sleep apnea, which could exacerbate the problem.
The drugs were chosen because of a shortage of other lethal injection drugs.
“McGuire will experience the agony and terror of air hunger as he struggles to breathe for five minutes after defendants intravenously inject him with the execution drugs,” the inmate’s attorneys said in a Monday court filing.
The dose planned for McGuire isn’t enough to properly sedate him, meaning he’ll experience “the horrifying sensation” of being unable to breathe, Harvard anesthesiology professor David Waisel said in a Tuesday filing in support of the inmate.
McGuire, 53, is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of Joy Stewart in Preble County.
McGuire’s lawyers asked federal judge Gregory Frost to delay the execution while they challenge the proposed lethal injection system.
A message was left with the Ohio attorney general’s office, which was expected to oppose McGuire’s filing.
Supplies of Ohio’s former execution drug, pentobarbital, dried up as its manufacturer put it off limits for executions. It’s a challenge facing other death penalty states as well.
Instead, Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to use a dose of midazolam, a sedative, combined with hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put McGuire to death.
That combination of drugs has never been used in a U.S. execution. They are included in Kentucky’s backup execution method, while Florida uses midazolam as part of its three-drug injection process.
In its ruling last month, the parole board criticized McGuire’s attempts through the years to evade responsibility and said that a recent letter he sent Kasich describing the slaying as a lovers’ quarrel gone wrong was disingenuous. It also questioned his claims of childhood abuse and instead focused on the brutality of Joy Stewart’s stabbing death.
“McGuire’s crime is very disturbing in character, as it involved the rape and slaying of a nearly eight-month-pregnant woman,” the board said.
McGuire was mentally, physically and sexually abused as a child and has impaired brain function that makes him prone to act impulsively, his lawyers said in a filing with the board.
“Dennis was at risk from the moment he was born,” the lawyers wrote. “The lack of proper nutrition, chaotic home environment, abuse, lack of positive supervision and lack of positive role models all affected Dennis’ brain development.”