By Jackie Borchardt

Akron child killer Ronald Phillips was put to death Wednesday, the first execution carried out in Ohio in more than three years.

Phillips, 43, died by lethal injection at 10:43 a.m. Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. There were no complications, and witnesses said Phillips showed no signs of gasping, choking or struggling.

Phillips was the first Ohio prisoner to die by a new three-drug cocktail including midazolam, a sedative involved in problematic executions in several states. Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when Preble County man Dennis McGuire took an unusually long 26 minutes to die with a two-drug combo including midazolam.

Phillips and two other death-row inmates sued the state over the proposed method. The U.S. Supreme Court denied their final appeals late Tuesday night.

The Ohio Parole Board twice unanimously recommended against granting Phillips clemency, calling the rape and murder of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans "among the worst of the worst capital crimes." The toddler, Phillips' girlfriend's daughter, was brutally beaten in the days before her death and anally raped, which Phillips confessed to shortly thereafter.

Phillips expressed remorse for her death in a final statement delivered before the lethal drugs were administered.

"I'm sorry you had to live so long with my evil actions," Phillips said to Sheila Marie's family, according to members of the media who witnessed the execution. "Sheila Marie did not deserve what I did to her. I know she is with the Lord and she suffers no more. I'm sorry to each and every one of you that lived with this pain all those years."

Phillips was the 54th Ohioan put to death since the state restarted the death penalty in 1999.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr said the execution team rehearsed the protocol 18 times.

Mohr said the last state execution, during which witnesses observed McGuire gasping and snorting, was "a humane execution."

"I witnessed it; I saw that," Mohr told reporters before Wednesday's execution. "I have confidence we're going to continue to do this in a dignified, peaceful, humane way."

Prison officials checked Phillips' veins twice Tuesday to make sure they were accessible for Wednesday's execution.

Phillips visited with his attorneys, spiritual advisers and a friend on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Phillips was observed praying and reading the Bible several times since arriving at the death house.

He was served a special meal Tuesday night that included a bell pepper and mushroom pizza, strawberry grape juice and Pepsi. He declined breakfast Wednesday morning.

After the execution Wednesday, Phillips' attorney said Phillips tried every day to atone for his "shameful role" in Sheila Marie's death. Sheila Marie's half-sister and aunt say Phillips never contacted family to seek forgiveness or showed remorse until his final statement today.

(c)2017 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland