Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday that he is halting executions until the state devises a new lethal injection protocol that overcomes any court challenges.
He did not issue a formal stay of all executions but said “Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment.”
He directed prison officials to come up with a new protocol, which will likely face legal challenge in federal court, he said.
“We certainly could have no executions during that period of time. I don’t want to predict dates, but we have to have the protocol, then it will be challenged, then we have a judge make a decision. So we have to through all that process before we could certainly move down the path toward an execution,” he said.
The next scheduled execution is May 29. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor will decide whether to go ahead or delay that execution based on the facts at the time, including whether the federal judge’s ruling has been overturned.
When asked if he now has personal reservations about capital punishment, DeWine said, “It is the law of the state of Ohio. I’m going to let it go at that at this point. We are seeing, clearly, some challenges that you all have reported in regard to carrying out the death penalty. I’m not going to go down that path any more today.”
DeWine voted for the capital punishment law as a state senator nearly 40 years ago, long before DNA analysis of crime scene evidence led to exonerations from death rows across the country.
When asked if those exonerations have changed his view of the capital punishment, DeWine responded, “I think there is a lot of things we know today that we have the benefit of seeing how it has played out since 1981. We know more today.”
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Last month, DeWine delayed the scheduled execution of Warren Keith Hanness after U.S. District Court Judge Michael Merz ruled that Ohio’s current execution protocol could cause the inmate “severe pain and needless suffering.”
It took Ohio more than three years to establish its current three-drug lethal injection protocol, in part because of the difficulty many states have had finding drugs. The state carried out the first execution under the current system in 2017.
Because of Ohio’s use of midazolam, Merz called the constitutionality of the state’s system into question in a Jan. 14 ruling and said inmates could suffer an experience similar to water boarding.
However, Merz did not stop the execution. Instead, he said that under a test created by a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Henness couldn’t demonstrate that a feasible execution alternative exists, and thus the execution could proceed.
Ohio has a long history with capital punishment, beginning in 1803 when it carried out executions by public hanging. The electric chair was used from 1897 to 1963 and lethal injection has been the method since executions resumed in 1999.
There are 137 inmates on Ohio Death Row, including Samuel Moreland of Dayton, who was found guilty of murdering two women and three children in November 1985. Moreland, who insists he is innocent, won the right for additional DNA testing, which has been delayed because of bureaucratic red tape.
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Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Tuesday he is working with Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck and Moreland’s attorneys to have the state crime lab conduct the tests within 30 days.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.