Longest execution in Ohio history leads state to re-examine capital punishment policies

Dennis McGuire’s 26-minute struggle to die after receiving a new form of lethal injection on Jan. 16 has left Ohio officials speculating if and how the state should reform its death sentencing practices.

Douglas Berman, professor of criminal law and sentencing at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, said many people are looking at the execution protocol, and that there are already bills being advanced to consider legal changes.

Berman said there is a possibility that the dosage levels of the drugs used on McGuire were not high enough.

“If there’s any means to suspect he did suffer significant pain, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ohio tried a different approach,” he added.

“I think this problem, and assuming the problem persists in finding a satisfactory lethal substance, does increase the likelihood that we will eventually do away with capital punishment in this state,” said Charles Schneider, administrative judge of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

The state of Ohio resorted to the lethal drug combination administered to McGuire because manufacturers of previously used drugs have begun to resist providing for executions.

“A lot of it has to do with doctors and their ode to do no harm,” Schneider said. “They don’t want to take part in capital punishment events.”

In the 1960s, the state stopped using the electric chair for executions with hopes that the switch to lethal injection would be the best way to ensure a quick, painless death.

“But obviously, Ohio has struggled with that more recently,” Berman said.

Schneider added that the emotional issues involved for the relatives of victims are also a challenge in capital punishment cases, which can go on for decades due to continuous appeals, costs and delays.

“It’s just not a very satisfactory resolution,” he said.

Abolishing the death penalty is a choice that many states have made in the past few decades, but it remains uncertain whether Ohio will be following the trend any time soon.

“It’s going to take a while -and I think whether I live to see it or not is debatable- but I’m very comfortable with saying that someday we will see the elimination of the death penalty,” Schneider said.

In Franklin County, there is currently a single case in which the state is asking for the death penalty, which Schneider is overseeing. The case goes on trial next month.