Man executed for 1989 slaying; method brings claims of cruelty

 

Ohio executed convicted killer Dennis McGuire Thursday for the 1989 rape and slaying of pregnant Preble County resident Joy Stewart, but his death took much longer than past executions and brought immediate claims of cruelty.

McGuire died at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution after receiving intravenous injections of a pair of chemicals that had not previously been used in executions. He used his last words to thank Stewart’s family for a letter they gave him. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Stewart’s family issued a statement after the execution that 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.”

The execution was unusual both in duration — nearly 25 minutes from the time the drugs were administered to when his death was declared — and how animated the inmate was after the drugs were administered. It was immediately unclear if this had anything to do with the drugs being used.

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” while struggling to breathe, 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.

McGuire’s children said late Thursday they will take legal action against the state after his unusually long execution during which his body appeared to gasp, snort and struggle for air repeatedly.

Dayton attorney Jon Paul Rion told the Dayton Daily News Thursday night McGuire’s family plans to announce today they will seek an injunction against the new execution method that was tried on McGuire.

“For 19 minutes, they watched their father slowly, painfully, cruelly die…gasping for breath, trying to find oxygen and slowly, consciously and painfully suffering,” he said. “I believe the actions of the state of Ohio were cruel and unusual.”

McGuire’s final statement before the drugs were administered was “To my children I love you,” the 53-year-old 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 tried to sit up and yelled, “I love you. I love you.” before the drugs kicked in, then his head sat back and his eyes rolled back in his head.

Prison officials had used intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. The method was adopted after supplies of a previously-used drug dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment.

Stewart’s sister Carol Avery, her husband Dewite Avery and son Benjamin Avery sat in a nearby observation area watching and did not appear to speak during the procedure.

McGuire’s daughter Amber, son Dennis and his son’s wife Missie McGuire sobbed and locked arms. “Oh my god,” one of them said as McGuire laid unconscious minutes after getting the drugs.

He laid still for about five minutes, then 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 for about another 10 minutes, 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 at 10:53 a.m.

Ohio prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith had no comment on how the execution went but said a review will be conducted as usual.

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.

The Stewart family’s statement anticipated concerns that McGuire would suffer. “He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her,” it stated. “Ultimately, we must all face judgment – both here on Earth and in Heaven. It is his time to face his judgment.”

Reporter Kelli Wynn and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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