Federal judge rejects Ohio’s new lethal injection process, stays executions

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By Kim Palmer

<span class="articleLocation”>A federal judge dismissed Ohio’s new lethal
injection process on Thursday, declaring it problematic, and
extended a delay in three upcoming executions, saying the courts
needed more time to decide whether it is constitutional.

Following a weeklong hearing, Magistrate Judge Michael Merz
rejected Ohio’s use of certain sedatives in executions after the
state changed its lethal injection process in October, according
to the ruling.

Merz’s decision in Columbus followed a lawsuit brought by
dozens of Ohio death row inmates that challenged the new
execution process and said the state had refused to disclose the
source of the execution drugs used.

Merz ruled that the three-drug protocol adopted in October
using a paralytic agent and potassium chloride was “completely
inconsistent” with the position the state took in a previous
ruling on lethal injections.

“The public interest is also served by the rule of law which
in cases such as this demand that persons not be executed
unconstitutionally and that the federal courts have ample time
to decide whether the intended execution is constitutional or
not,” Merz said in his 119-page ruling.

Thursday’s ruling prohibits prison officials from using
drugs that have previously caused problem in executions in the
state and Arizona, which paralyze and stop the hearts of death
row inmates.

Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections was
reviewing the decision, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said in an
email, adding that the agency “remains committed to carrying out
court-ordered executions in a lawful and humane manner.”

The state had planned to use the new, three-drug process on
death row inmate Ronald Phillips in February. Merz’s ruling
affects two other death row inmates scheduled for execution
beginning in February, Gary Otte and Raymond Tibbetts.

Phillips’ execution for the rape and murder of his
girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, originally set for December
2009, was halted along with all Ohio executions in 2014 after
the execution of Dennis McGuire. Ohio was then the first state
to use a combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller
hydromorphone in an execution.

McGuire’s execution for the rape and murder of a pregnant
woman, witnessed by his adult children and reporters, took 25
minutes. Witnesses said he gasped and convulsed for 15 minutes.

Last October, Ohio said it would resume executions in 2017
under a new lethal injection protocol. Ohio
implemented a death penalty moratorium in 2015 due to difficulty
in obtaining the drugs needed to perform lethal injections. (Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York)

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