Debate stirs over suffering during execution in America

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 3:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 January, 2014, 3:57am

The death of a killer who repeatedly gasped and appeared to suffer during his lengthy execution by a new two-drug method has touched off a debate in the US state of Ohio.

Death-row inmate Dennis McGuire snorted, gasped and repeatedly opened and shut his mouth during his 26-minute execution on January 16 by lethal injection. A combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller, were used in the longest death procedure since Ohio resumed killing inmates in 1999. Eyewitnesses said that McGuire appeared to be unconscious while making the noises.

A news report said McGuire told guards that state public defender Robert Lowe had counselled him to make a show of his death that would, perhaps, lead to abolishing the death penalty, according to prison records released this week. The state public defender's office said an internal review failed to substantiate the coaching allegation.

The public defenders who represented McGuire said the inmate was not coached to fake suffocation or make a show of his death. They said the inmate might have misunderstood an attorney's request that he truthfully communicate what was happening to him during the lethal injection.

"I'm sure that during all those conversations that were had at a very difficult time for Mr McGuire, as you can imagine, that some of the information that was being discussed was clearly misunderstood," public defender Allen Bohnert said.

The prisoner's legal team has asked the state's governor, John Kasich, to impose a moratorium on capital punishment.

Bohnert said the allegations distracted from the problems with the execution, which he called a "horrific failure" violating the Constitution. The state's lethal injection procedure was under review as it was after every execution, said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.

Three accounts from prison officials indicated McGuire thought he was supposed to put on a display, but refused.

"He wants me to put on this big show in front of my kids, all right when I'm dying," McGuire was reported to have told one guard. "I ain't gonna do this. It's about me and my kids, not him and his cause."

McGuire, 53, was sentenced to die for raping and fatally stabbing a pregnant woman in 1989 in western Ohio.