Drugs take 15 minutes to kill death row murderer

Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted before he died. Picture: AP
Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted before he died. Picture: AP
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A CONVICTED Ohio rapist and murderer gasped for air and made “deep rattling sounds” during his controversial execution by two untested drugs that took 15 minutes to kill him.

Dennis McGuire choked and clenched his fists for at least ten minutes yesterday as a female member of his family could be heard saying: “How could this go on for so long?”

McGuire’s stomach rose and fell several times as he repeatedly opened and shut his mouth.

The killing was the first time that the combination of sedative midazolam followed by painkiller hydromorphone has been used in America since the previous drug’s manufacturer banned it from being used in executions.

McGuire’s execution has sparked a debate on the death penalty in America and lawyers for the 53-year-old said that his treatment was a breach of the US constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment”.

Prosecutors told a court in Columbus that he was “not entitled to a pain-free execution”, even though they ­acknowledged the procedure was an “experiment”.

McGuire was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of Joy Stewart, a 22-year-old newlywed, who was 30 weeks pregnant.

He kidnapped and raped her before stabbing her to death. Her unborn child died too.

The execution took place in a small windowless room at the Southern Ohio Correctional ­Facility in Lucasville.

Among those watching were Miss Stewart’s brother-in-law and nephew. Also present were McGuire’s daughter Amber and son Dennis, who held each other and sobbed. McGuire’s daughter-in-law was also watching.

In his final words the murderer and rapist said: “I’d like to say to Joy’s family, thanks for the letter and the kind words. They meant a lot. To my children, I love you. I’m going to heaven. I will see you there when you get there.”

The drugs started to flow at 10:29am and according to Columbus Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson, who was present, trouble started five minutes later.

He said: “McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds that lasted for at least ten minutes, with his chest heaving and his fist clenched. Deep, rattling sounds emanated from his mouth. For the last several moments before he was pronounced dead, he was still.”

Previous executions with the former execution drugs took much less time, and typically did not include the types of snorts and gasps that McGuire made.

He was pronounced dead at 10:53am, making his ­execution one of the longest in Ohio since it brought back the death penalty in 1999.

McGuire had on Wednesday night eaten his final meal of roast beef, extra-crispy fried chicken, fried potatoes with onions, potato salad, a toasted bagel with cream cheese, butter pecan ice cream and a Coke.

He did not sleep and instead wrote letters and spent hours talking to his mother and sister on the phone.

Yesterday morning he ­declined breakfast or a shower and at 6:30am he had an emotional visit from his children. At 8am, McGuire took communion and at 9:45am the death warrant was read out by a warden.

Authorities in Ohio were forced to turn to the untried cocktail of drugs because in 2011 the makers of sodium thiopental, long used in US executions, stopped supplying it for that purpose on ethical grounds.

Ohio ran out of its supply in September last year.

After the execution, Miss Stewart’s family said they had forgiven McGuire thanks to their Christian beliefs but noted that their compassion “does not negate the need for him to pay for his actions”.

On the topic of the controversial drugs, they wrote: “As I recall the events preceding her death; forcing her from the car, attempting to rape her; sodomising her, stabbing her, choking her, leaving her to bleed out. I know she suffered terror and pain. He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her.”