By Frank Lewis
LUCASVILLE — For the first time, the execution team at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville has used the new two-drug protocol in its execution of Dennis McGuire for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant woman, Joy Stewart. The condemned Ohio inmate appeared to gasp several times and took more than 15 minutes to die Thursday as he was executed with a combination of drugs never before tried in the U.S. — Midazolam and Hydromorphone.
Midazolam is a sedative and Hydromorphone is a painkiller. The execution formula was decided when SOCF Warden Donald Morgan notified Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections officials that there was not a sufficient quantity of Pentobarbital, a drug used in lethal injections, available at his facility.
McGuire reportedly made several loud snorting or snoring sounds during one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. McGuire thanked Stewart’s family for a letter he apparently received from them referring to “kind words” he said meant a lot. “I’m going to heaven, I’ll see you there when you come,” he said.
McGuire’s adult children sobbed a few feet away in a witness room as they looked on at the state death house in Lucasville in southern Ohio.
McGuire opened and shut his left hand as if waving to his daughter, son and daughter-in-law. More than a minute later he raised himself up, looked in the direction of his family and said, “I love you. I love you.”
McGuire was still for almost five minutes, then emitted a loud snort, as if snoring, and continued to make that sound over the next several minutes. He also opened and shut his mouth several times without making a sound as his stomach rose and fell.
“Oh my God,” his daughter, Amber McGuire, said as she observed her father’s final moments.
A coughing sound was Dennis McGuire’s last apparent movement, at 10:43 a.m. He was pronounced dead 10 minutes later.
Previous executions with the former execution drugs took much less time, and typically did not include the types of snorts and gasps that McGuire uttered.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show McGuire unsuccessfully sought a reprieve in recent weeks to try to become an organ donor. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said McGuire couldn’t identify a family member who would receive his organs, as required under prison policy.
The state had originally planned to use the new formula when executing Ronald Phillips, who was scheduled to be put to death in November, but that execution was put on hold while the state studied the feasibility of his request to donate a kidney to his mother and his heart to his sister. Phillips was convicted of raping and murdering the three-year-old daughter of his girlfriend.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt. The Associated Press contributed to this story