COLUMBUS, Ohio — A condemned Ohio inmate put to death during a prolonged execution experienced pain and suffering before he lost consciousness, an anesthesiologist working for the family of the inmate determined in a report released Tuesday.
Neither of the drugs used to execute Dennis McGuire on Jan. 16 can be relied on to produce a rapid loss of consciousness and death, according to the affidavit by Dr. Kent Diveley of Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.
A higher dose of the sedative used by Ohio is needed to render someone unconsciousness, Diveley said, while the painkiller used by the state causes eventual death from lack of oxygen but couldn't be depended on to produce unconsciousness, he said.
"It is possible that when this combination of drugs is used for lethal injection there will be a delay of several minutes before the inmate loses consciousness preceding death," Diveley said. He said apparent straining gestures by McGuire represented "conscious voluntary actions."
"They exemplify true pain and suffering in the several minutes before he lost consciousness," the affidavit said. "To a degree of medical certainty this was not a humane execution."
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by McGuire's adult children alleges McGuire "suffered needless pain and suffering" during his execution. McGuire snorted and gasped several times during the 26 minutes — the longest of any Ohio execution — it took him to die.
Diveley was hired by lawyers for the family to study the execution. It's common for expert witnesses to be paid for their work. Attorney Jon Paul Rion declined to say how much Diveley received.
Other anesthesiologists have offered differing views on what McGuire might have experienced, with some calling his repeated snorting and gasping a typical reaction to those two drugs — both commonly used in hospitals — during surgery.
The state prisons agency declined comment, as is typical when it's sued. On April 28, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction concluded there was no evidence that McGuire "experienced any pain, distress or anxiety."
Nevertheless, "to allay any remaining concerns," the prisons agency also announced it was boosting the dosages of the two drugs used to execute McGuire for future executions. Those changes would appear to address Diveley's concerns about dosage amounts.
Concerns have grown about the two drugs used by Ohio — midazolam, the sedative, and hydromorphone, the painkiller — because of McGuire's execution and a nearly two-hour execution last month in Arizona using the same drugs.
A federal judge on Monday extended a moratorium on executions in Ohio until Jan. 15 while debate continues about the state's procedure.
Ohio has not been able to obtain supplies of its first choice, compounded pentobarbital, a drug used successfully by Missouri and Texas in several recent executions.
McGuire was executed for the 1989 rape and stabbing death of Joy Stewart, 22, a recently married pregnant woman in western Ohio.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.