Inmate's family sue state, drug makers over prolonged execution
Dennis McGuire was executed by means of a two-drug lethal injection process never before tried in the U.S. on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction)
Andrew Welsh-Huggins, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, January 25, 2014 6:21PM EST
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The prolonged execution of an inmate in Ohio during which he repeatedly gasped and snorted amounted to cruel and unusual punishment which should not be allowed to happen again, the inmate's family said in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday, also alleges the drug maker that produced the medications used in the lethal injection illegally allowed them to be used for an execution and should be prohibited from making them available for capital punishment.
Dennis McGuire "repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain," the lawsuit said. "It looked and sounded as though he was suffocating."
McGuire's execution on Jan. 16 lasted 26 minutes, the longest since the state resumed putting inmates to death in 1999, according to an Associated Press analysis of all 53 execution logs maintained by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
It remains unclear what McGuire experienced. The AP observed him appearing to fall unconscious and remaining so while he snorted, gasped and opened and shut his mouth repeatedly.
McGuire's execution, during which his adult children sobbed in dismay, has led to several calls for a moratorium on capital punishment in the state.
In addition, a separate federal lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to stop the March execution of a killer in Ohio on the grounds that condemned inmates could be clinically alive for as long as 45 minutes after a time of death is announced in the state death chamber.
Attorneys for Gregory Lott, who is scheduled to die March 19 for setting an East Cleveland man on fire in 1986 and leaving him to die, also say Ohio is breaking state and federal law by using the drugs without a prescription.
The lawsuit by McGuire's family targets Lake Forest, Illinois-based Hospira Inc., the manufacturer of the drugs used in McGuire's execution.
The company knew its drugs were being used for executions but continued to sell them to Ohio, according to the lawsuit, which seeks damages above $75,000.
Hospira should have known that the drugs "would cause unnecessary and extreme pain and suffering during the execution process," the lawsuit said.
In 2011, Hospira ended production of sodium thiopental, a drug used by many states for executions, including Ohio, after it couldn't guarantee to Italian authorities where its factory was located that the drug wouldn't be used for capital punishment.
The company also has prohibited other drugs from being used in executions, and took the same steps for midazolam and hydromorphone, the drugs used in the McGuire execution, last year, according to a company statement. Hospira said its distributors have also agreed not to sell the drugs to prisons.
Medical experts wouldn't comment on McGuire's execution or speculate about what he experienced. They agreed that used for surgeries, the two drugs by themselves wouldn't cause pain.