Governor John Kasich has pushed back the execution dates so a federal appeals court has time to rule on a controversial sedative's constitutionality. Critics argue midazolam leads to cruel and unusual punishment.
In a setback for death penalty supporters, Ohio Governor and former US presidential candidate John Kasich announced on Monday that nine scheduled lethal injections would be put on hold until a federal appeals court can review the constitutionality of the sedative drug midazolam hydrochloride.
The planned May 10 execution of Ronald Phillips, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a child, was pushed back to July 26, along with eight other executions scheduled for later months.
The Republican governor said the timing of the court's review meant the delay was necessary.
An unconstitutional drug?
On June 14, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments to determine whether using midazolam to induce unconsciousness before lethal heart-stopping drugs are administered leads to "substantial risk" of pain, violating a prisoner's constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.
In January 2014, after midazolam was used as the sedative, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during his 25-minute long death procedure. Executions had been on hold in the Midwest state since then and were expected to resume in January of this year before a lower court stopped the resumption.
Ohio state attorneys argue that the massive midazolam doses planned for the scheduled executions - 500 milligrams, or 10 times what was used on McGuire - would ensure inmates were rendered fully unconscious.
Another state battles with midazolam
Kasich's postponement comes in the shadow of Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson's unprecedented decision to expedite a series of executions before his state's supply of midazolam was set to expire at the end of the April.
Kenneth Williams, one of the recently executed Arkansas death row inmates, was reported to have convulsed and gasped for air a few minutes after his execution had begun.
Arizona, another US state in which the death penalty is legal, previously used midazolam as a sedative but agreed not to use it in future executions.
The pharmaceutical makers of midazolam have banned the sale of the drugs to prison systems due to ethical concerns surrounding its use in death penalty procedures.
Prior to midazolam, death penalty states used an anesthetic in their lethal injection mixes.
cmb/se (AP, Reuters)