The Midwestern state has put off all scheduled executions until 2017 because of difficulty obtaining approved drugs to carry out lethal injections. The shortage has been caused by an embargo by European pharma companies.
On Monday, the Ohio corrections department announced that over the past few years it has become "exceedingly difficult" to secure those drugs because of severe supply and distribution restrictions.
Ohio has unsuccessfully tried to restock the drugs after using them up on executions, but has failed so far at importing chemicals from overseas. It's just one of several states scrambling to obtain drugs since pharmaceutical companies - mostly from Europe - began blocking the use of their products for executions.
In January 2014, Ohio became the first state to use an ad-hoc combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone to execute Dennis McGuire for the 1993 rape and murder of a pregnant woman. His execution took at least 25 minutes - a state record - and witnesses said he gasped and seized for a quarter of an hour.
Soon after, Ohio abandoned those two drugs and announced that it would use one of two drugs that it had previously obtained for capital punishment. But it did not have supplies. One of those drugs, sodium thiopental, is no longer manufactured by FDA-approved companies, and the other, pentobarbital, has been put off limits for executions by drugmakers.
Ohio obtained a federal import license to seek supplies abroad but has been warned by the US Food and Drug Administration that importing lethal drugs is illegal.
The state raised the issue again with the FDA earlier this month, asserting that officials believe that they can obtain a lethal-injection drug from overseas without violating any laws; the agency has yet to respond.
Ohio governor orders all executions delayed
Execution dates for 11 Ohio inmates have been pushed back through warrants of reprieve issued by Gov. John Kasich.
Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien expressed his frustration at the delays, saying that in some cases inmates had exhausted all appeals and that their guilt was unquestioned.
"It seems that in those states that authorize assisted suicide there has been no impediment to securing drugs and, as time marches onward, victims wonder why they must continue to wait for justice," O'Brien wrote in an email to the Reuters news agency.
Ohio is one of 31 US states that carries out the death penalty. And it's not the only state having trouble securing drugs for lethal injection.
The Oklahoma attorney general's office recently announced that no executions would be scheduled until at least next year as the office investigates why the state used the wrong drug during a lethal injection in January - and nearly did so again last month.
Earlier this month, an Arkansas judge halted the upcoming executions of eight death row inmates who are challenging a new law that allows the state to withhold any information that could publicly identify the manufacturers or sellers of its execution drugs.
Virginia executed serial killer Alfredo Prieto on October 1, but only after obtaining pentobarbital from the Texas prison system. Texas has continued to purchase supplies of compounded pentobarbital without disclosing how much it has obtained or where it came from.
Executions reached a 20-year low in the US last year and are on pace with the numerous postponements to hit the lowest level since 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
jar/rc (AP, Reuters)