Ohio has executed its first inmate since a botched lethal injection more than three years ago. The execution paves the way for as many as 26 more in the state by 2020.
The US state of Ohio put to death a convicted child rapist and murderer on Wednesday, in the first execution in the state using a new lethal injection cocktail since a moratorium on the death penalty was implemented more than three years ago following a botched execution.
Ronald Phillips, 43, was convicted of the 1993 murder and rape of his then girlfriend's daughter, 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, when his girlfriend left her with Phillips in her apartment.
Phillips admitted to the crime, but has sought to avoid execution over the years by arguing that he suffered sexual and physical trauma as a child and was only 19 years old at the time.
Before the lethal injection, Phillips apologized to the child's aunt and half-sister, who were at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville to witness the execution.
"To the Evans family, I am sorry you had to live so long with my evil actions," Phillips said. "Sheila Marie did not deserve what I did to her."
Donna Hudson, the victim's aunt, said, "God forgave him, but, I'm sorry, I don't think I can."
Phillips was then administered a three-drug lethal injection cocktail of the sedative midazolam, the paralytic drug rocuronium bromide, and the heart-stopping drug potassium chloride.
There were no apparent complications and Phillips did not exhibit any signs of pain during the execution that lasted about 10 minutes, both witnesses and the state correctional services said.
But Phillips' lawyer said the paralytic agent - injected after the midazolam – hid signs of suffering.
"Hiding the physical evidence does not change the reality that Ohio used a painful and unnecessary method of execution to kill Ron Phillips today," Allen Bohnert said.
Phillips' execution paves the way for as many as 26 executions in Ohio through 2020, with four more scheduled this year.
Governor John Kasich placed a moratorium on all executions after the 2014 botched execution of Dennis McGuire using a never before tried cocktail that included midazolam, which has been the subject of legal battles in Ohio and other states.
During the unusually long 26-minute procedure McGuire convulsed and appeared to suffer.
The moratorium was extended, because Ohio, like some other states, struggled to obtain a previously used drug after manufacturers stopped selling the chemicals and the European Union imposed controls of the export of drugs that could be used in executions in 2012.
Tangled up in court
At the same time, death row inmates in Ohio, similar to those in other states, have challenged new three-drug combinations and the use of midazolam. The cases have argued the anesthetic doesn't work and executions are a violation the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that states could use midazolam, though a federal district judge and a three-judge appeals panel had earlier agreed with Phillips and other inmates' lawyers that midazolam failed to ensure there was no cruel and unusual punishment.
That claim was supported by 15 pharmacology professors who wrote an opinion that the sedative was "unsuitable" for executions.
The state argued that its new drug protocol called for a 50-times greater dose of midazolam that would ensure the execution was painless. A full appellate panel agreed with Ohio, saying, "The Constitution does not guarantee 'a pain-free execution.'"
Phillips lost his final appeal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, overturning lower court decisions.
Phillips' execution is the 15th in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Since the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate the death penalty in 1973, the 31 US states that have the death penalty have carried out 1,457 executions.
Over the same period, 159 people on death row were later exonerated of their crimes. There are currently 2,902 inmates on death row.
cw/bk (AP, AFP, Reuters)