Amid Execution Drug Shortage, Ohio Postpones Inmates' Death

by | October 20, 2015

By Jim Provance

The state of Ohio on Monday put off its resumption of executions for another year as it continues to struggle to find the drugs it would prefer to use for lethal injections.

Ohio last put an inmate to death in January, 2014, with its one-time use of the sedative midazolam in conjunction with the morphine derivative hydromorphone.

Dennis McGuire, of Montgomery County, died, but witnesses described him as making choking sounds and struggling against his restraints for 26 minutes after the drugs began to flow.

Ohio abandoned that drug combo soon afterward and has been unable since to acquire the drugs it would prefer to use, either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental.

The domestic or European manufacturers of those drugs refuse to make them available for executions.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction "continues to seek all legal means to obtain the drugs necessary to carry out court-ordered executions, but over the past few years it has become exceedingly difficult to secure those drugs because of severe supply and distribution restrictions," reads a statement released by the department on Monday.

Lawmakers have dangled the promise of at least temporary anonymity to compounding pharmacies in hopes one would be willing to manufacture one of the drugs from scratch. So far there have been no takers.

The state also flirted with the idea of trying to import one of the drugs from outside the country, but has been blocked by the federal government.

Ronald Phillips, of Cuyahoga County, was to be the first inmate executed when the current moratorium was to end. But his Jan. 21, 2016, execution has now been pushed back to Jan. 12, 2017.

In all, the executions of 25 inmates are now rescheduled. Six of those inmates were sentenced to death in cases from northwest Ohio:

-- William Montgomery, who shot and killed Toledo roommates Debra Ogle, 20, and Cynthia Tincher, 19, in 1986. His execution has been delayed from Aug. 15, 2016, to June 13, 2017.

-- Cleveland R. Jackson, convicted with half-brother Jeronique Cunningham of shooting and killing Jala Grant, 3, and Lenshia Williams, 17, in a 2002 Lima robbery. His execution has been postponed from July 20, 2016, to Sept. 13, 2018.

-- Douglas L. Coley, who with accomplice Joseph Green murdered Samar El-Okdi, 21, in a 1997 Toledo carjacking. His execution is set for March 14, 2018.

-- Archie J. Dixon, who with Timothy Hoffner buried alive roommate Christopher Hammer in Sylvania Township in 1993. His execution is set for March 20, 2019.

-- Timothy H. Hoffner, Dixon's co-conspirator. He is scheduled to follow Dixon to the lethal injection gurney on May 29, 2019.

-- James Galen Hanna, who, while serving a life sentence for the robbery murder of Edward V. Tucker, 18, at a West Toledo convenience store, murdered his Lebanon Correctional Institution cellmate, Peter Copas, in 1997. His Jan. 12, 2017, execution has been reset for Feb. 13, 2019.

"I think the conventional wisdom is that it will not be too long before the death penalty is outlawed, but it's a long and difficult battle getting there," said Rick Kerger, Montgomery's attorney.

"We should take this opportunity to start asking the question of whether we need to have this or we'd be better off with life without parole," said Abraham J. Bonowitz, of Ohioans to Stop Executions.

(c)2015 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)