By Josh Sweigart and Associated Press
Dennis McGuire’s seemingly unconscious body appeared to gasp, snort and struggle for air for roughly 10 minutes before he was declared dead at 10:53 a.m. Thursday.
With his last words, he thanked the family of his victim—Joy Stewart, the pregnant woman he raped and killed in Preble County in 1989 – for a letter he apparently received. “I’m sorry,” he said, before addressing his family.
“To my children I love you,” he said to his son and daughter, who watched as lines were led out of his arms tattooed with their names. “I’m going to heaven, I’ll see you there when you come.”
He then yelled “I love you” around 10:29 a.m. as the drugs kicked in and his eyes rolled back in his head.
The following process took unusually long, according to reporters who have witnessed more than a dozen executions in Ohio. It was immediately unclear if this had anything to do with the drugs being used, which had never been used in an execution before.
Stewart’s sister Carol Avery, her husband Dewite Avery and son Benjamin Avery said nothing throughout the entire procedure.
McGuire’s daughter Amber McGuire, son Dennis McGuire and his wife Missie McGuire sobbed and locked arms. “Oh my god,” one of them said as he lost consciousness.
He laid still until around 10:34 a.m., when his body started convulsing in an apparent attempt to breathe. The breaths ranged from shallow to a violent, raspy snore. The snorts were so loud his daughter covered her ears.
“How could this go on for so long,” one of the women said.
This continued until roughly 10:44 a.m., when McGuire’s body stopped moving after a few shallow gasps. A prison physician then examined McGuire for roughly three minutes before he was declared dead.
Allen Bohnert, a public defender who lead McGuire’s appeal to stop his execution in federal court on the grounds that the drugs would cause undue agony and terror, called the execution process a “failed experiment” and said his office will look into what happened.
“The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled by what took place here today in their name,” he said.
Both families issued statements after the execution. “We all loved him and find comfort in knowing he is in a better place now,” said the statement from McGuire’s family.
Stewart’s family’s statement noted the lives McGuire took nearly 25 years ago.
“The last time I saw her, she was beaming with happiness and couldn’t wait to meet her baby,” it said. “This has been a long time coming.”
It addressed concerns that McGuire would suffer, saying, “he is being treated far more humanely than he treated her.”
“Ultimately, we must all face judgement – both here on Earth and in Heaven. It is his time to face the judgement.”
McGuire didn’t sleep Wednesday night, spending most of the evening, night and morning before his execution talking to friends and family on the phone or in person.
Prison officials say McGuire was “calm and cooperative” during his stay at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.
His veins were assessed at 11:18 a.m. Wednesday and found to be “accessible and palpable.”
He had two hot dogs for lunch Wednesday and visited with his son, daughter and ex-wife until visitations ended at 7:30 p.m.
He finished most of his sizeable last dinner Wednesday: roast beef, fried chicken, a bagel with cream cheese, fried potatoes with onions, potato salad, butter pecan ice cream and a Coke.
He talked on the phone through the night, mostly to his mother, stopping at 1 a.m. to write a letter. He turned down breakfast and a shower Thursday morning.
The last time Smith checked on him before an 8 a.m. media briefing, he was talking to his daughter.
Our reporter Josh Sweigart is a witness to the execution today and will have more on this story throughout the day. Newscenter 7’s Jim Otte is also there and will have live reports at noon on Channel 7. You can get Twitter updates from Otte here.