Stuttering and Gasping for Air

Posted by Chelsea Bond on January 17th, 2014

On Thursday, January 16, Ohio executed Dennis McGuire using new, untested drugs. An expert anesthesiologist warned that one of the drugs was inappropriate to use in an execution, stating that it could cause the inmate to be conscious while suffering through the sensation that he was suffocating.

The doctors concerns were well-founded. Dennis McGuire appeared to have struggled and gasped for air for more than 10 minutes. Some witnesses say that the struggle endured even longer, for nearly 19 minutes.

The family is planning on filing a lawsuit against the state for inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. Speaking about what he witnessed, Dennis McGuire's son said, "I watched his stomach heave, I watched him trying to sit up against the straps on the gurney, I watched him repeatedly clench his fist … [it] appeared to me he was fighting for his life while suffocating...I can't think of any other way to describe it other than torture."

This experimental execution that went horribly wrong is just the latest in a string of desperate and unacceptable attempts by states to prop up a failing death penalty system.

Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University specializing in execution methods, said, "[States] are out of control, taking ever greater risks with increasingly inappropriate drugs."

It is clearer than ever that this scramble to find new ways to execute people is heading down a dangerous path.

Death Penalty Focus is joining Ohioans to Stop Executions in calling on Governor Kasich to issue an immediate moratorium on all executions. This horrifying execution, which witnesses say resulted in “agony and terror”, should be a wakeup call to state leaders.

Ohio’s death penalty is broken, and this cruel execution is one more clear signal that it is time to put a stop to executions.

If you live in Ohio, please join with Ohioans to Stop Executions in calling for an immediate moratorium on executions.

Posted in Blog


Comments are now closed for this item.

  1. Comment by Margo Schulter, Feb 13th, 2014 6:00pm

    This prolonged and brutal execution in Ohio is the kind of spectacle which might happen in California also, if the initiative promoted as "The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2014" were to qualify for the ballot and then be enacted by the voters of California.

    Section 12 of the initiative would add California Penal Code Section 3604.1 (b): "...[A]n execution by lethal injection may be carried out by means of an injection other than intravenous if the warden determines that the condition of the inmate makes intravenous injection impractical."

    In fact, Ohio's new execution procedure with its apparent result of death by drawn out suffocation, uses drugs originally adopted for a back-up procedure if the then-standard one-drug protocol for intravenous injection were to become impractical. Both the difficulty in finding an appropriate vein in some prisoners, and the dwindling supply of medicines like sodium thiopental or sodium pentobarbital as more pharmaceutical suppliers and governmental agencies such as the European Union seek to stop the use of such lifesaving drugs for state-sponsored killing, has led States such as Ohio to invent procedures which risk torturous results. Abolishing the death penalty is the solution: "There's no right way to do the wrong thing."


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