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Ohio increases drug dosage for executions

State prison officials say Dennis McGuire didn’t suffer as he lay on the death table snorting after receiving a lethal injection in January, but they will increase the dosages of lethal drugs given in future executions.

This is according to a review released Monday of the Jan. 16 execution of McGuire, who was convicted of the 1989 rape and murder of Joy Stewart, a pregnant newlywed from Preble County.

“There is no evidence that McGuire experienced any pain, distress or anxiety,” the state concluded after reviewing eyewitness accounts, reviewing McGuire’s medical records and talking to a licensed anesthesiologist.

In future executions, though, the state plans to use five times the amount of midazolam, a sedative, it used on McGuire. It also will nudge up its dosage of hydromorphone, a pain-killer.

“After the review, the (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction) remains confident that it conducted the execution in a humane, constitutional way and that the inmate was completely unconscious and felt no pain,” said department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.

McGuire’s execution was the first in the country to use this particular lethal cocktail, after the drug the state previously used was taken off the market for executions by its manufacturer.

The execution made international headlines because McGuire spent roughly 10 minutes intermittently gasping and snorting for air while apparently unconscious. The total execution lasted 25 minutes, making it the longest since Ohio resumed the death penalty in 1999.

Dayton attorney Jon Paul Rion filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of McGuire’s adult children asking for an injunction against lethal injection in the state and challenging the use of drugs that were not clinically tested for executions.

Rion said Monday that the report ignores claims by eyewitnesses that McGuire arched his back and clenched his fist, and it relies on the same doctor who testified before McGuire’s execution that “air hunger” would not occur, as his attorneys alleged.

“There is some concern that the state didn’t rely on an independent expert,” he said. “If there is another person executed … we will be experimenting with that person as we experimented in a failed fashion with Mr. McGuire.”

Gov. John Kasich rescheduled the next execution after McGuire to November to allow for this review. Now the next in line is Arthur Tyler of Cleveland, who was convicted of killing a produce vendor during a robbery in 1983. Tyler is set to die May 28.

The revised protocol allows for several syringes to be prepared, each holding 50 milligrams of midazolam and hydromorphone. The former protocol called for 10 mg of midazolam and 40 mg of hydromorphone. It also allowed for more than one dose to be prepared, though only one was used in the McGuire execution.

A doctor testifying on McGuire’s behalf said the proposed dosage of midazolam was insufficient to cause unconsciousness. The report released Monday notes this claim, but says the state’s medical expert disagrees with it.

“The massive doses of drugs given to McGuire rendered him unconscious before any of the irregular bodily movements were observed,” the report says. “He did not experience pain, distress or air hunger after the drugs were administered or when the bodily movements and sounds occurred.”

This is the second review of the execution. Another released immediately afterward by the prison warden who oversaw the procedure concluded “the process worked very well.”

But death penalty opponents point to the changed protocol as evidence things didn’t go as smoothly as the state claims.

“If everything worked according to plan, why would the plan need to be altered in any way?” said Mike Brickner, spokesman for the ACLU of Ohio. “The fact that they are increasing the drugs, whether they want to admit to it or not, is a sign that Mr. McGuire’s execution didn’t go as planned.”

Staff writer Brian Kollars contributed to this report.

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