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Judges extend temporary halt to Ohio executions

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal judge has extended a months-long moratorium on executions in Ohio into next year as questions mount about the effectiveness of a new, two-drug combination being used to carry out the death penalty.

The ruling by federal judge Gregory Frost will delay executions scheduled for September, October and November and highlights the ongoing problem faced by states in obtaining drugs to put inmates to death.

The last moratorium was scheduled to expire this week.

The one-page order by Frost issued Friday extends it through Jan. 15. It affects the state’s latest death-penalty policy change, which was announced in late April and increases the amount of the sedative and painkiller Ohio uses.

On Jan. 16, an Ohio inmate repeatedly gasped during the record 26 minutes it took him to die, and an Arizona inmate took nearly two hours to die July 23.

Ohio’s first choice for a drug is compounded pentobarbital, a specialty version of the drug it used previously with few problems. But it has been unable to obtain supplies of compounded pentobarbital, and switched to its backup method of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

Missouri and Texas both have supplies of compounded pentobarbital, though the states won’t reveal their sources, and have used them to carry out several executions successfully in recent months.

Allen Bohnert, the lead defense attorney challenging the use of the two-drug method, declined to comment. A message was left with the state prisons agency.

The next execution scheduled in Ohio was to have occurred Sept. 18, when Ronald Phillips was set to die for the 1993 rape and death of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in Akron.

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