COLUMBUS, Ohio — Following the controversial botched execution of an inmate in Ohio, using a new lethal-injection mixture, a federal judge has decided to halt executions in the state until January 2015.
The ruling, issued by U.S. district Judge Gregory Frost, extends an existing moratorium on executions, which had been set to expire on Aug. 15. The death penalty will now be put on hold until Jan. 15, 2015, as courts examine the use of a two-drug combination for lethal injections.
The ruling will delay four executions scheduled for later this year.
In May, Judge Frost suspended the death penalty until further review in August, following the execution of Dennis McGuire.
McGuire’s execution used the state’s backup method of combining the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone after the state could not find a supplier for its preferred method of administering a single dose of compounded pentobarbital. During the Jan. 16 execution, McGuire was seen clenching his fists, trying to sit up, gasping for breath and choking, as the drugs took a record 26 minutes to kill him.
McGuire was condemned for the 1989 murder of a woman and her unborn child. In the months before his execution, he had returned to the sacrament of reconciliation and was an attendee at the prison’s weekly Masses for inmates. At the Mass before his execution, he was a recipient of the anointing of the sick and dying, and he received spiritual direction.
Father Lawrence Hummer, McGuire’s spiritual director and a witness to his death, described the execution as “inhumane” in a January column for The Guardian, in which he called on the state to suspend the practice.
“There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes,” Father Hummer said, adding that both the McGuire family and the family of his victim “had been exposed to something horrendous.”
After watching the execution, the priest said, “I don't know how any objective observer could come up with any conclusion other than that was an evil act.”
Emphasizing the need to uphold the dignity of human life and the importance of the possibility of repentance, he counseled that the “death penalty is nothing more than an exercise in vengeance that rightly should be reserved to the Lord,” and he asked that the state end the practice.
“It serves no purpose,” he said. “People must seize this culture of death and stop it.”
Previously, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference had asked the state to abolish the death penalty. The bishops argued in a 2011 letter that the state has means of protecting citizens without using capital punishment, saying that life imprisonment “respects the moral view that all life, even that of the worst offender, has value and dignity.”
They urged: “Fair and effective punishment is possible without the death penalty.”